Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review | Margaret climbs a mountain of insecurities in 'A Change in Altitude'

Anita Shreve's latest book, set in Kenya, includes wild animals, dangerous jealousies and suffering natives.A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE. Anita Shreve. Little, Brown. 307 pages. $26.99.

Anita Shreve is a bestselling novelist in large part because of the economical way she builds suspense. In the first line of her new book, a young white doctor who has arrived in Nairobi to conduct research, announces, ``We're climbing Mount Kenya.'' In those four words to his wife, he suggests the story's central questions: Why is Patrick telling Margaret, with her scant climbing experience, rather than asking her? Can the young American couple rise to the physical and psychological challenge? And what will this climb allow them to discover about Kenya and about themselves?

The novel, set in the 1970s, is told from Margaret's angle and, because she is a photographer, that perspective is often visual and sharply focused. She's especially sensitive to those who claim authority, and that includes all five of her climbing partners: She and Patrick, accompanied by a guide and porters, take on Mount Kenya with two European couples well accustomed to wielding the authority of post-Mau Mau white colonials. Patrick and Margaret's landlord, Arthur, is the one who has suggested the climb, and Margaret has certainly noticed the proprietary attention he pays her. Arthur's athletic wife, Diana, has noticed, too.

Shreve's prose is workaday here, and the dialogue is occasionally stiff, but she knows how to keep a reader engaged. Sometimes, Margaret's interior monologue does a good job of explaining a bit of action: ``After she had stumbled a couple of times, she noticed that the cook, whose name she didn't know (whose name she didn't know!), stood near her in case she fell badly.'' More often, however, Margaret's thoughts are separated from the action and tend to state her dilemmas baldly. In the middle of the night, she wakes in their mountain shelter to find rats crawling over her, and allows Arthur to comfort her by taking her hand. The passage describing the morning after seems designed to reassure those readers who are a little slow on the uptake: ``She wondered who else had seen her hand in Arthur's, and if that explained the angry voices outside.''

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Herta Müller Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Herta Müller, the Romanian-born German novelist and essayist who has written widely about the oppression of dictatorship in her native country and the unmoored life of the political exile, on Thursday won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described Ms. Müller, “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” Her award comes on the 20th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Europe.Ms. Müller, 56, emigrated to Germany in 1987 after years of persecution and censorship in Romania. She is the first German writer to win the Nobel award since Günter Grass in 1999. Just four of her works have been translated into English, including the novels “The Land of Green Plums” and “The Appointment.”

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Periscope On Facebook

Sorry, no new book review posting today.  But we did want to let you know about our new page on Facebook.  This page will have the blog postings, new product information, deal offers, news stories and much more.  If you are on Facebook, please be sure to check us out!! 

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Reporting on the threat posed when reliable reporting fades away...

'Losing the News' By  Alex S. Jones
Reviewed By Erica Noonan
It has been an annus horribilis for newspapers.
Dailies in Seattle, Denver, and Tucson went dark in 2009, as did several dozen small-town weeklies. The Boston Globe was threatened with closure, as was the San Francisco Chronicle. And we still have more than three months to go.

The timing could not be more appropriate for veteran newsman Alex S. Jones’s latest book, “Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy.’’
This is not a hopeful book. It’s more of an obituary for the industry that gave Jones an enviable career, first at his family’s own small paper in Greeneville, Tenn., then as a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Times, and a plum perch at the nexus of journalism and academia as director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

“Losing the News’’ is one of the clearest assessments to date of the sweeping technological and financial changes that overturned the modern tradition of objective newsgathering and dissemination.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Evidence of Murder' By Lisa Black

Reviewed By Oline H. Cogdill
Miami Herald

In her second novel about Cleveland forensic investigator Theresa MacLean, Black constructs an involving plot that seems to have no clues. No matter how Theresa approaches her latest case, she cannot find any evidence that would reveal how a young woman died in the woods. Nothing suspicious was found near Jillian Perry's body, and forensics tests yield nothing.

A former escort with an adored 5-month-old baby, Jillian apparently had finally found happiness with Evan, her husband of three weeks. Evan and his business partner had just developed an innovative video game that was likely to bring them wealth -- and a bit of fame.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

'Little Bird of Heaven' By Joyce Carol Oates

 'Little Bird of Heaven' By Joyce Carol Oates
Reviewed By Malena Watrous
NY Times

Often called the “Dark Lady of American Letters,” Joyce Carol Oates is a controversial figure, simultaneously praised for her prolific versatility and taken to task for a fascination with violence that can seem prurient. In her fiction, violence is often at the root of passion, and passion almost inevitably leads to violence, a tautology and trap that we see again in “Little Bird of Heaven,” Oates’s 57th novel since 1964.

Set in Sparta, a fictional town in upstate New York, the novel explores the unsolved murder of Zoe Kruller, a bluegrass singer with a reputation for sleeping around. After she was strangled in bed, the police repeatedly detained and interrogated her estranged husband, Delray Kruller, and her married lover, Eddy Diehl. The two men were named “prime suspects” in the local paper, but neither was brought to trial. Still, the accusations marked them. The town remains split on which one must have done it. Her cuckolded husband has a clear motive (and he’s targeted for being part Seneca Indian). But their son, Aaron, insists that he was with his father during the murder. Her lover, Eddy, was not home that night, a fact that his scorned wife discloses to the cops after they search her home. She also issues a restraining order against him, forbidding contact with his children. The novel is split too, between Eddy’s daughter, Krista, and Delray and Zoe’s son, Aaron, as both try to make sense of what happened in the years surrounding the murder, and to establish their fathers’ innocence.

“That yearning in my heart!” Krista begins. Although she’s a grown woman, she still pines for her father with the rawness of an abandoned child. She was not even a teenager when Zoe died, and she lost her “Daddy,” as she continuously refers to him. Krista’s narrative, dominating the first half of the book, is riddled with exclamation points, italics and single-sentence paragraphs. The intensity grows wearisome at times, her passion verging on hysteria. But as she becomes an increasingly unreliable character witness, the story grows richer and more layered.

NY Times 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

'True Compass' by Edward M. Kennedy

Review By Tim Rutten
Chicago Tribune

"The graveyards of the world," Charles De Gaulle once said, "are filled with indispensable men."

The eloquent shrug of Gallic irony aside, the living do walk away, even from the graves of the great and good, and history -- which is life in the aggregate -- simply goes on. Yet it does no justice to the living or the dead to pretend that some losses do not diminish us in ways that impoverish our collective experience and strip away a bit of life's savor.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's recent death was such a loss, and "True Compass," his touchingly candid, big-hearted and altogether superb memoir, demonstrates precisely why. Completed in the shadow of the senator's own mortality, this is a book whose clarity of recollection and expression entitles it to share in the lineage established by America's first great memoir of public life -- "The Autobiography of U.S. Grant," which he wrote while himself dying of cancer.

There are, of course, fundamental differences: The former president and Union commander was a 19th century man setting down a public life; Kennedy is very much a man of our time, open to exploring the interplay of his inner and outer lives. Grant wrote his autobiography; although Kennedy was a devoted diarist whose natural gifts as a storyteller and as a sharp, painterly observer shine through every page, he was ably assisted not only by the writer -- and Twain biographer -- Ron Powers, but also by his wife, Vicki Reggie, and a variety of scholars, particularly those associated with the University of Virginia's oral history project.

All the Kennedy brothers were known for their superb staffs -- Teddy, most of all.

In the weeks leading up to Monday's publication of "True Compass," much of the obvious "news" in this book was leaked to the press, particularly his bitter regrets over his "inexcusable" behavior during the Chappaquiddick tragedy, the night of heavy drinking that resulted in rape allegations against one of his nephews, and the failure of his first marriage. What's far more remarkable about this memoir is its capacious and generous spirit.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'The Lost Symbol' by Dan Brown

Reviewed By Janet Maslin
NY Times

One of the theories espoused by Dan Brown’s new book is that when many people share the same thought, that thought can have physical effects. Let’s test it on Tuesday. Watch what happens to bloggers, booksellers, nitpickers, code crackers, conspiracy theorists, fans and overheated search engines when “The Lost Symbol,” Mr. Brown’s overdue follow-up to “Angels & Demons” (2000) and “The Da Vinci Code” (2003), finally sees the light of day.

As a man whose ideas have had their share of physical effects, Mr. Brown is well aware of how widely read and closely scrutinized “The Lost Symbol” will be. He even lets a character joke about this book’s guaranteed popularity. Dr. Katherine Solomon specializes in noetic science, with its focus on mind-body connections. She admits that her field is not widely known. But when her story comes out, she suggests, noetics could get the kind of public relations bump that Mr. Brown gave to the Holy Grail.

Dr. Solomon accompanies Robert Langdon, the rare symbologist who warrants the word dashing as both adjective and verb, through much of this novel, his third rip-snorting adventure. As Browniacs have long predicted, the chase involves the secrets of Freemasonry and is set in Washington, where some of those secrets are built into the architecture and are thus hidden in plain sight. Browniacs also guessed right in supposing that “The Lost Symbol” at one point was called “The Solomon Key.” That’s a much better title than the generic one it got.

So much for safe predictions. What no one could guess, despite all advance hints about setting and subject matter, was whether Mr. Brown could recapture his love of the game. Could he still tell a breathless treasure-hunt story? Could he lard it with weirdly illuminating minutiae? Could he turn some form of profound wisdom into a pretext for escapist fun? By now his own formula has been damaged by so much copycatting that it’s all but impossible for anyone to get it right.

Too many popular authors (Thomas Harris) have followed huge hits (“The Silence of the Lambs”) with terrible embarrassments (“Hannibal”). Mr. Brown hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s bringing sexy back to a genre that had been left for dead.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'Born Round' By Frank Bruni

'Born Round'
By Frank Bruni

Reviewed By Susan Orlean
NY Times

Frank Bruni’s early relationship with food did not bode well. As a toddler, still in diapers, he was such an avid eater that two large hamburgers could not satisfy him; even worse, if he was denied a third burger, he protested by vomiting the first two. If he was rationed to a more-than-reasonable three cookies, he would beg his mother for a fourth and vomit if he was shot down. He was an equal-opportunity glutton, as insatiably enthusiastic about his grandmother’s marvelous-sounding frits — crackling chunks of fried dough, used to shovel up drifts of sugar — as he was about the lowliest of supermarket cookies.

If “Born Round,” Mr. Bruni’s new memoir, just detailed his obsessive eating, his serial bouts of bulimia, the barometric rise and fall of his pants size, his frequent episodes of self-loathing punctuated by midnight snacks of enough roast chicken to feed a family, it would be an unexceptional book; after all, confession culture, and particularly food- and diet-related confession, has been popular for 20 years and pretty tedious for about 19.

But Mr. Bruni’s book is distinctive and intriguing on several accounts. The author is male (most diet memoirs are written by, and for, women); he writes well and insightfully (rare in this often sloppy genre); and in spite of his problems with food, he has spent the last five years as perhaps the most influential eater in America: the restaurant critic of The New York Times.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

'The Show That Smells' by Derek McCormack

Reviewed By Jim Ruland
LA Times

Even by the standards of the paranormal romances that occupy the top slots of bestseller lists, Derek McCormack's new novel of cursed crooners, murderous fashion designers and homosexual vampires is an exercise in campy excess.

Taking its name from carny speak for a performance that features animal acts, "The Show That Smells" spins off the actual premise of country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers dying young as a result of tuberculosis. Jimmie's wife, Carrie, makes a deal with the devil to save her husband's life, only in McCormack's milieu the devil is the inimitable Parisian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli -- who happens to be a vampire who can be stopped only with liberal doses of Chanel No. 5. "The Show That Smells" is redolent with such high jinks.

The story is presented as a live-action film shot entirely in a mirror maze. The characters are both the actors and the roles they play. For instance, Schiaparelli's minion is simultaneously "Dracula's" Renfield and Lon Chaney in stage makeup. Because the action is located on a set that replicates everything ad infinitum, it's never clear what's "real" and what's simply in the script.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music'

Greg Kot, Tribune music critic, reports reasons behind industry's downfall

By David E. Thigpen
Chicago Tribune

In 2000, U.S. record sales peaked at 785 million albums. It was the beginning of the end for the record industry as the world knew it. During the next eight years, album sales fell 45 percent and the pain spread throughout the business. After decades of fat profits and limousine lifestyles, the Big Four record companies -- Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI -- and a tight coterie of radio conglomerates and promoters suddenly found themselves fighting for their lives. In response, they did what any industry in crisis does: laid off thousands of workers. But in this case traditional thinking was precisely the problem. According to Tribune music critic Greg Kot in his expertly reported "Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music," the economic apocalypse that fell upon the record establishment couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch.

The trigger for the industry's crisis was the rapid rise of digital copying and the sharing of music enabled by the Internet. But as Kot lets the story flow through interviews with musicians, executives and many earnest, well-informed fans, the digital revolution merely peeled back a curtain revealing the rot underlying the industry's traditional business structures. From the unhealthy consolidation of radio to absurdly high-priced CDs to usurious deals with artists to payola and the triumph of lowest-common denominator taste over quality, Kot recounts how the industry foolishly dug in and refused change even as the landscape of record-selling shifted out from beneath its feet.

Confronted with the fact that fans preferred digital music, a business model amply proven by the explosive growth of the pirate file-sharing service Napster, record bosses sued rather than join the future. "The industry responded not with vigorous new ideas, but with strong-arm tactics and threats," Kot writes. "It served fans not with digital innovation but with lawsuits. ..." Of course, digital was and is the future.

The slow reaction of the record companies to digital music left an opening that would bring billions to Steve Jobs through Apple's iTunes and iPods. But more important to Kot's story, a new "wired" generation of Internet-savvy and striving young artists, fanzine editors and scrappy start-up labels walked through the door too. Their work -- haphazard, halting, often unsuccessful but always inspired -- adds up to a movement that is rejuvenating pop and hip-hop -- including talents such as Wilco, Bright Eyes and Arcade Fire.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back to Yasgur’s farm

40 years later, memories of the difficult birth and the iconic (if drug-addled) triumph of Woodstock

By Steve Morse
Boston Globe

Forty years later, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair seems like a faint, faraway dream. Tickets to the event were surely a dream by modern standards. A one-day pass cost $7 - less than the cost of a beer at the Comcast Center now. And all three days cost $18 - more than $300 less than a good seat to a single show by the Rolling Stones or Madonna.

Woodstock was an improvised hippie happening: “We made it up as we went along,’’ writes producer Michael Lang. But despite mud, overcrowding, a lack of food and sanitary facilities, it can still lay claim to being an unmatched cultural event. It was the first big outdoor rock concert on the East Coast, attended by an estimated 500,000 people, and it has come to symbolize an entire generation. (Crowd estimates vary because most people streamed in for free.) Woodstock paved the way for the green movement and blissfully lacked the corporate signage that typify today’s co-opted rock shows.

Two new books are out, looking to plug into Woodstock nostalgia, with the 40th anniversary coming next month. Both are to be recommended, but for different reasons. Lang’s “The Road to Woodstock’’ is an adrenaline-rush account of the weekend itself and the activity behind the scenes, from the struggle to coax bands into signing up (Lang stayed up all night with the Who’s Pete Townshend until Townshend finally agreed at 8 a.m. so he could get some sleep) to negotiations with skeptical town officials in upstate New York who feared an invasion of hippies. The town of Wallkill turned him down only a month before the festival, forcing Lang to hustle to find an alternative site: Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel. Carpenters were still finishing the stage on the first day.

The other book, “Back to the Garden,’’ is by New York disc jockey Pete Fornatale, who collects dozens of first-person memories from bands, organizers, and fans. He is not a great writer and is prone to clichés (“by Friday the route to the festival had more clogged arteries than Elvis Presley’’), but fresh insights from the artists make it an important read. And while most of the quotes he uses are positive (Woodstock “was wonderful and breathtakingly exhilarating,’’ says Arlo Guthrie.), some are much less so. Take this one from Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar, talking about the stoned nature of the crowd: “It reminded me of the water buffaloes you see in India, submerged in the mud. Woodstock was like a big picnic party, and the music was incidental.’’

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Inside the Meltdown: Financial Ruin and the Race to Contain It

NY Times

A year ago it would have been hard to imagine a book about the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department making it onto people’s must-read summer reading lists. But the financial calamities of last autumn put the global economy on the brink of disaster and led to continuing fiscal woes. Understanding what happened has become vitally important not just for bankers and economists, but for everyone affected by the fallout, which means ... well, just about everyone.

For all of us then, David Wessel’s new book “In Fed We Trust” is essential, lucid — and, it turns out, riveting — reading.

In these pages Mr. Wessel, the economics editor of The Wall Street Journal, chronicles how the Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke, with Henry M. Paulson Jr., then the Treasury secretary, and a small group of associates, frantically worked to shore up the United States economy, capturing how this handful of people — “overwhelmed, exhausted, beseeched, besieged, constantly second-guessed” — tried to catch and stabilize one toppling fiscal domino after the next.

In this volume Mr. Wessel uses his narrative gifts and a plethora of sources to give readers a vivid, highly immediate sense of what transpired in last-minute, high-pressure, seat-of-their-pants meetings in Washington and New York while placing these events in a broader historical context. He examines the Fed’s increasingly important (and increasingly debated) role as an economic first responder, looks at how personality and personal philosophy can inform policy making and offers a concise explication of the causes of what he calls “The Great Panic.”

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Monday, July 20, 2009

'Censoring an Iranian Love Story' By Shahriar Mandanipour

Reviewed By Trenton Daniel
Miami Herald

In his first novel to be translated into English, Shahriar Mandanipour sets out to write the story of young lovers struggling to consummate their prenuptial passion under the eyes of the Iranian morals police. They hang out nervously in Internet cafes, dark movie houses and on the jammed and smoggy streets of modern-day Tehran.

The clandestine courtship comes at a time when university students protest, and vigilantes watch out for transgressing neighbors. A war with U.S. troops and suicide bombers rages in next-door Iraq.

Telling amorous tales in post-Islamic-revolution Iran is tricky, if not downright dangerous, but a fictional writer named Shahriar Mandanipour, is up to the task. ''I am an Iranian writer tired of writing dark and bitter stories, stories populated by ghosts and dead narrators with predictable endings of death and destruction,'' writes the alter ego of the real-life Mandanipour, a Harvard visiting scholar and former writing fellow at Brown.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'How to Hold a Woman' by Billy Lombardo

Reviewed By Lynna Williams
Chicago Tribune

'How to Hold a Woman' by Billy Lombardo

Death of a daughter, sister ripples throughout her family for years to come.

Missing and then murdered children are so much a part of the American landscape that a novelist who deals with the subject must find new ways into the material. Chicago writer Billy Lombardo has done that in "How to Hold a Woman" by fragmenting the novel into stories, separate moments in the lives of the family a dead 12-year-old girl leaves behind.

The result is a moving kaleidoscope of sorrow, as the impact of the tragedy continues to wreak profound change on a middle-class family of six, bewilderingly changed to five on an August evening in Chicago that begins with a joyful homecoming. Dad Alan Taylor is coming home from two months on a research trip in Madagascar and his family -- wife Audrey, daughter Isabelle and son Sammy -- pick him up at the airport. Son Dex is spending the night at a friend's house, and the family decamps to a restaurant where Isabelle flirts with her father, acting out bits of Daisy Buchanan's dialogue from "The Great Gatsby." She has changed in those two months, Alan sees, become someone a little more grown up, less a little girl.

We see the family happy together for part of that night. Then, as quickly as the unthinkable becomes real, Isabelle drops out of the picture. When we come upon the family again, two years later, she's been sliced out of the family dialogue. No one refers to her by name or tells her story directly. We hear about no vigils, no years in therapy, no efforts to keep her memory alive. Alan and Audrey are a couple with an increasingly troubled marriage who, when asked, answer correctly that they have two children. We see the impact of the loss of Isabelle in everything they do, though, from Audrey's raging silences to the parents' separation to Alan's change of careers to Audrey's standing at a window at a dance studio, her nose pressed against the glass as young girls practice inside. The couple are loving parents to their sons, but the boys are left to think through Isabelle's disappearance and death themselves. Sammy is too young to really remember her last night, but Dex, who wasn't there, lives with regret that he wasn't present, sure that he would remember each moment with Isabelle in ways Sammy cannot.

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'In the Graveyard of Empires' By Seth G. Jones

NY Times

The Choices That Closed a Window Into Afghanistan

Among the many lasting consequences of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was the collateral damage it inflicted on Afghanistan and the war there against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Money, troops and expertise were diverted to Iraq, and as the RAND Corporation political scientist Seth G. Jones observes in his useful new book, the initial success of the military operation in Afghanistan was squandered.

The slender window for securing a stable democracy in Afghanistan began to close, and by 2006, Mr. Jones writes, a “perfect storm of political upheaval” had gathered, with several crises ominously converging: “Pakistan emerged as a sanctuary for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, allowing them to conduct a greater number of operations from bases across the border; Afghan governance became unhinged as corruption worked its way through the government like a cancer, leaving massive discontent throughout the country; and the international presence, hamstrung by the U.S. focus on Iraq, was too small to deal with the escalating violence.”

The first major operation using additional troops sent to Afghanistan by President Obama recently began in the southern part of that country, even as Taliban advances in border regions have aided Al Qaeda’s efforts to destabilize neighboring Pakistan.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Will electronic devices make books obsolete?

The Denver Post (via the Miami Herald)

Like a lot of readers, Kimberly Field likes and laments her new Kindle.

On one hand, the in-demand electronic device solves a problem common to fans of novels and nonfiction: too many books, not enough bookshelves.

''I was about to resort to the Fahrenheit 451 method of book management'' joked the Denver author, referring to Ray Bradbury's cautionary tale about book-burning.

On the other hand, its convenience has removed the tactile sensation from a treasured hobby.

``I prefer turning the pages of a book because I like touching it and flipping back to reread passages. You don't get that with Kindle.''

While readers are torn over the merits of literary toys like Amazon's Kindle, the iPhone and Sony Reader, there's no doubt they have overwhelmingly embraced them.

This year, electronic books sales are up 150 percent and analysts predict the number could triple by December. That comes in a year when sales of traditional books are down four percent.

The publishing industry is scrambling to keep up with -- or take advantage of -- the interest in electronic reading. Ailing magazines and newspapers, hungry for a delivery system the public will like, are hopeful. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are hoping they don't become obsolete.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

'This Wicked World' by Richard Lange

Reviewed By Antoine Wilson
LA Times

In the hard-boiled universe of Richard Lange's debut novel, "This Wicked World," trying to do the right thing can lead only to trouble. Ex-Marine and former bodyguard Jimmy Boone knows this all too well. Fresh out of Corcoran and on parole, he's biding his time, tending bar for tourists on Hollywood Boulevard and managing a group of rental bungalows.

Yet when Robo, the bar's bouncer, asks for help on a "hero for hire" gig, Boone hears him out. The job sounds simple enough: Robo needs Boone to accompany him to a meet at a Denny's restaurant. All Boone has to do is wear a sports jacket and look like a cop. As Robo puts it, "my regular white boy is fishing in Cabo."

At Denny's, an elderly Guatemalan man enlists Robo to investigate the death of his grandson, Oscar Rosales, a young migrant worker found dead on an MTA bus and covered with infected dog bites. This puts Boone and Robo on a trail that leads eventually to a sketchy apartment near MacArthur Park, where Oscar had been living. There they find a group of Oscar's friends, a toothless pit bull and a story. Oscar was mauled by dogs while working for someone out in the desert. He made his way back to L.A. but didn't see a doctor because he was afraid the people from the desert were coming after him. Beyond that, the friends don't know anything.

As far as Robo is concerned, it's enough. He's done. Boone, on the other hand, can't let it go. He buys the toothless pit bull from the roommates, and something clicks in him: "It's time to stop kidding himself. The mystery of Oscar's death has been haunting him for days, and the only way he's going to get any peace is by looking into it further. . . . This is what he's been waiting for when he wakes in the night, his body tense, his mind racing: a mission. A rocky path to some untamed form of redemption." Thus begins his descent into a brutal world of dog fighting, drugs and counterfeit money.

The stories in Lange's first book, the critically acclaimed "Dead Boys," gripped the reader from the first lines: a dozen first-person narrators, utterly convincing in detail and voice. These stories of down-on-their-luck men trying to rise above the past flirted with genre but were first published in literary magazines. "This Wicked World," however, is more straightforwardly genre-oriented, as if Lange has made the conscious choice to structure his long-form narrative around established conventions of mystery and neo-noir. Written in third person, moving in and out of various characters' points of view, the novel reveals more of its artifice than the stories did, and as such it feels more like a well-assembled work of entertainment than a gritty dispatch from the front lines.

Parallel chapters follow the machinations of two thugs, their crime boss and the boss' girlfriend as they enforce the repayment of debts, dispose of a body and set up a dog-fighting event. Lange's villains are a rogues' gallery of greed, aspiration, gluttony and stupidity, drawn with a keen eye for their small-time aspirations. One thug needs money for tattoo removal, to look respectable for an upcoming custody battle. Another dreams of producing a line of martial-arts-cum-exercise videos called "Killer Instincts: Way of the Ghetto Warrior."

Continue reading here...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'Breaking the Slump' By Jimmy Roberts

Reviewed by Joe Logan

Philadelphia Inquirer

When you plow into a book subtitled How the Great Players Survived Their Darkest Moments in Golf and What You Can Learn From Them, you sort of expect to come away having, you know, learned something.

Ha! The joke's on me.

Not that Roberts' book isn't a pleasant, breezy read, ideal for the beach or - let's be honest here - a last-minute gift for that golfer in your life. Just understand that while this gift might get you off the hook, it won't get rid of his or her hook.

It's the first book for Roberts, a solid, likable golf correspondent for NBC Sports. (In the acknowledgments, Roberts writes that when he called his older sister to tell her he was writing a book, there was silence on the line until she said, "I think Mom and Dad would have been happy if you just read a book.")

Breaking the Slump is literary cotton candy. It's chock-full of fun stories and anecdotes about some of the biggest names in, and out, of golf, such as Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Paul Azinger, Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Arnold Palmer, the first President Bush, and Jack Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus? Who knew that Nicklaus, who remains the greatest player in the history of golf so long as Tiger Woods continues to chase his record of 18 major championship titles, ever had a slump?

I write about golf for a living, and I'm old enough to remember Nicklaus in his heyday, and I didn't recall a slump.

But, hey, there was one year. It was 1979, 17 years into his career, when Nicklaus was pushing 40. He'd already famously dethroned the beloved Arnold Palmer, and he had won the PGA Tour money title six times. But in '79, inexplicably, Nicklaus stunk the joint up. He didn't win once. He didn't even finish second. He only had one third-place finish all year, and he fell to 71st on the money list.

"I mean, you wouldn't believe how pathetic I was," Nicklaus told Roberts.

So, what did Nicklaus do? Nothing. He took four months off.

Come January 1980, when he was rested and ready, Nicklaus went back to his old coach, Jack Grout, like he was a fresh-eyed kid.

"I started from scratch," said Nicklaus. "OK, Jack Grout, my name is Jack Nicklaus and I want to learn how to play golf."

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Monday, June 29, 2009

'Conquest of the Useless' By Werner Herzog

Reviewed by JANET MASLIN
New York Times

This is what “a beautiful, fresh, sunny morning” was like for Werner Herzog during the Sisyphean miseries that plagued the shooting of his Amazonian epic “Fitzcarraldo” (1982): one of two newly hatched chicks drowned in a saucer containing only a few millimeters of water. The other lost a leg and a piece of its stomach to a murderous rabbit. And Mr. Herzog realized, for the umpteenth time, that “a sense of desolation was tearing me up inside, like termites in a fallen tree trunk.”

These and other good times have been immortalized in “Conquest of the Useless,” Mr. Herzog’s journal about his best-known filmmaking nightmare. Already published in German as the evocatively titled “Eroberung des Nutzlosen” in 2004, this book, translated by Krishna Winston, seemingly recapitulates some of Les Blank’s film “Burden of Dreams,” the 1982 documentary that captured the “Fitzcarraldo” shoot in all of its magnificent, doomy glory. When he spoke to Mr. Blank, Mr. Herzog used the phrase “challenge of the impossible” to describe his heroic, arguably unhinged struggle to complete his film.

But “Burden of Dreams” never penetrated Mr. Herzog’s rogue thoughts, at least not in the way his own mesmerizingly bizarre account does. That’s understandable: Mr. Blank could concentrate on such external diversions as hauling a steamship over a hill in the Amazon rain forest, which was the pièce de résistance of Mr. Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” scenario.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'The Favorites' by Mary Yukari Waters

Reviewed By Janice P. Nimura

LA Times

True fluency in two cultures is a privilege -- and a burden -- granted to few. Mary Yukari Waters is one of these. Her Irish American father met and married her mother in Kyoto, Japan, where Waters spent her early years. At age 9, she moved with her parents to California, where she still lives, while remaining close to her Kyoto relatives. Strikingly Caucasian-looking to the Japanese, more Japanese at heart than Americans suspect, Waters is unusually able to explain them to each other.

Six years ago, Waters published "The Laws of Evening," a collection of quiet, precise stories that brought the submerged trauma of postwar Japan to agonized life. Each story was an intimate ink drawing, expressing volumes of pain and stubborn hope with a few eloquent strokes. They were exquisite, and complete in themselves, but to Waters, it seems, they were just a sketchbook.

"The Favorites," her first novel, borrows liberally from many of the stories, repeating images and characters in a larger format, one perhaps not as well-suited to her minimal style.

The novel's first half is an expanded revision of Waters' semiautobiographical story "The Way Love Works." In the summer of 1978, 14-year-old Sarah Rexford and her mother, Yoko, arrive in Kyoto from California for an extended visit with Sarah's sprightly grandmother, Mrs. Kobayashi.

After five years of expatriate unease, Yoko has returned to her natural element, and Sarah watches in wonder as her mother reclaims her place as charismatic "queen bee" of the neighborhood and apple of her mother's eye. Sarah, used to rolling her adolescent eyes at Yoko's cultural gaffes at home, is startled at the pleasure she now takes in her mother's reflected glory.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'The Signal' By Ron Carlson

Reviewed By J.K.
Chicago Tribune

Mack's father has been gone from this Earth a good long time, but he's still a daily part of Mack's life. That gives "The Signal" (Viking), the new novel by Ron Carlson, special resonance on a Sunday devoted to dads.

They ran a guest ranch in Wyoming, did father and son, until the father passed away unexpectedly, at which point Mack's life fell apart: "At the ranch, everything was tilted, weird; it was more than something missing. Gravity had changed. Mack saw to the horses and painted the small barn, but there was no center for him without his father there."

Yet as Mack divulges in the course of this uncommonly fine novel, his father lives vividly in his memories. Mack undertakes a mysterious trip in the wilderness, taking along his estranged wife, Vonnie, and his father's words and rules are often all that stand between Mack and disaster.

Carlson's writing is crisp and blunt, much like the very Wyoming landscape he describes. In his last novel, "Five Skies" (2007), he did the same thing: He echoed the raw topography with the simple beauty of his words. "I pay attention to every sentence," Carlson said in a recent phone interview.

"I work very hard in my book to make them about real places," he added. "In a lot of books today, we have a lot of general, floating life, life in apartments, urban stories. I'm much more interested in the West. I work from particulars."

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Monday, June 22, 2009

'Black Water Rising' By Attica Locke

Reviewed by JANET MASLIN
New York Times

On the day he is to meet with the Houston mayor, Jay Porter takes special care not to wear his best clothes. That’s because as he dresses, he is being watched by Bernadine, his very pregnant wife, and because the mayor, Cynthia Maddox, is an old flame.

The year is 1981. Eleven years earlier, as a student at the University of Houston, Jay wore a dashiki, a goatee and a militant air. Cynthia, Jay remembers, was a noisily outspoken member of Students for a Democratic Society, a white girl drawn to black radicals “as sure as if the Temptations had come to town.”

Now Cynthia has a stiff blond head of helmet hair, an important office and a politician’s survival skills. Jay has a struggling law practice and a deep, gnawing sense of self-doubt. If he often feels as if others might betray him, he can thank Cynthia for some of that; she fell right out of love with him when he faced trumped-up charges of conspiring to incite violence. She vanished when he stood trial.

Attica Locke’s “Black Water Rising” uses Jay’s unease as a determinative character trait, one that will shape much of his behavior during Ms. Locke’s atmospheric, richly convoluted debut novel. Her story begins on a dark and watery night. Jay has taken Bernie (as she is known) on a bayou cruise when he hears cries for help, dives off the boat and rescues a damsel in distress. Knowing full well that only suckers rescue such damsels and that this may be “the oldest con in the book,” Jay nonetheless saves an expensively dressed white woman about whom he knows exactly nothing. The false assumptions that he makes about her will add a layer of interest to Ms. Locke’s deeply nuanced story.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

“Home Game” by Michael Lewis

“Home Game” by Michael Lewis
New York Times

Michael Lewis’s “Home Game” is meant for the man who has everything — including a grudging attitude toward raising his own children. Affecting a curmudgeonly stance that owes something to Professor Henry Higgins, Mr. Lewis writes of how he deigned not just to let a woman into his life, but also three children.

While his wife figures only tangentially in the book, is given scant credit for her efforts and is referred to as “incubator of the source material,” the children become the center of Mr. Lewis’s universe, much to his initial horror. “Maternal love may be instinctive,” he writes, with a touch of candor in a book that is otherwise gruffly facetious, “but paternal love is learned behavior.”

“Home Game” is about Mr. Lewis’s learning process. Based on a series of columns he wrote for Slate, the book frames a series of anecdotes about child rearing in terms well suited to Father’s Day. (Four years ago Mr. Lewis hailed that holiday with a conveniently timed book about his high school baseball coach.) No greeting-card saccharine here: Mr. Lewis manages to work business, baseball and golf references into stories about his children’s behavior. And no analogy is too manly to be out of place. When he takes his oldest child to school so that his wife and new baby can sleep, he writes, “I am the good soldier who has leapt on the hand grenade, so that others may live.”

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

'The Winner Stands Alone' By Paulo Coelho

'The Winner Stands Alone' By Paulo Coelho

Miami Herald

I used to know a guy who hated daylight saving time. Every time it rolled around, he devoted a week to denouncing it, along with corporate greed, artificially fertilized lawns, the American highway system and white bread. When his wife bought a loaf to make the kids' lunches, he hung it out the kitchen window with a rope. He wouldn't have it under his roof. I agreed with him on principle. There are plenty of things to dislike about our culture.

This guy would have loved Paulo Coelho, although he might wonder about a novelist who deplores glitz and glamour even as he devotes more than 300 pages to evoking glitz and glamour in all its distasteful excess. Coelho takes for his subject the Cannes Film Festival, which, in his opinion, stands on shaky moral ground. ''In Cannes,'' an assistant remarks, ``there's no such thing as friends, only self-interest. There are no human beings, just crazy machines who mow down everything in their path in order to get where they want or else end up plowing into a lamppost.''

Coelho disapproves mightily of the human folly on display in Cannes: the unbridled ambition, the thirst for fame, the lure of haute couture and ostentatious jewelry. He hates dark glasses, because ''in a celebrity town like Cannes, (they) are synonymous with status,'' and he loathes cellphones, which are ''leading the world into a state of utter madness.'' He posits a small group of people whom he dubs the ''superclass,'' which has all the power, all the limos, all the private jets; those who dress in high fashion, swill champagne, drive Maybachs and who, if they're women, get regular injections of Botox. But he isn't fond of ordinary people either, who do silly things like wear neckties or eat three meals a day whether they're hungry or not. In short, while he compares Cannes to Sodom and Gomorrah, he's not prepared to let sinners of any social class off the hook, quoting Solomon's ''Vanity of vanities, all is vanity'' more than once and apparently meaning it.

So. Igor, a psychotic Russian phone executive with his own private jet, comes to the film festival in pursuit of his ex-wife, Ewa, who has run off with Hamid, an Arab clothes designer also with his own private jet. Igor aims to kill a few people and notify Ewa on her cellphone, hoping this will motivate her to return to him. Over a period of about 24 hours, he does indeed manage to suffocate a young street vendor using the Russian martial art Sambo and off an important movie distributor using a needle soaked in curare, which Igor blows through a cocktail straw. He spends the afternoon stabbing an independent film director and leaving a hermetically sealed envelope filled with hydrogen cyanide under an unknown person's door.

Several unsuspecting women move through this corrupt and glittering landscape: a 25-year-old model who yearns for a chance at the big time, a 19-year-old model from Africa and that director who has spent her entire adult life making a film for which she seeks distribution. Through them, the author visits the worlds of moviemaking. (Will it surprise many readers to learn that the writer is the least well-paid participant in any project?) And we are told that Los Angeles is ``really a large suburb in search of a city.''The world of fashion is also held up to scrutiny, its sins too numerous to mention.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

'The Wikipedia Revolution,' 'Stealing MySpace' and 'Viral Spiral'

By Lizzie Skurnick
LA Times

When the history of the Web is written, in what form will our progeny receive it? Via grainy promotional YouTube videos from Google? By listening to dusty Jeff Jarvis podcasts? Perhaps annotated, crowd-sourced and pre-preferenced Wikistories will be delivered directly into their cerebrums. (Personally, I'm hoping for a tiny avatar of a young woman in a flowing white gown and side-buns, interrupted midway by gunfire.) Yet whatever the medium, it seems unlikely that it will be the one that's falling out of favor even as you read this: the plain old book.

Because -- why write a book about a website? Really. Why do it? It distances the reader from the medium in an awkward and inexplicable way. (Not quite dancing the book review, but close.) It abdicates temporal authority, since by the time of publication, most visitors will have moved on to faster-caching pastures. Any user wishing to know about any site is presumably equipped with the power to log on and experience it herself, while those of us curled up with Edith Wharton and a nice tumbler of single malt are unlikely to look at breathless dispatches on how the other half keystrokes. And, although the Web lives to be writ and overwrit, most print authors, naturally enough, resist the idea of instantly being made palimpsest. So what are they doing with their peskily immutable pages in this land of instant updates?

In the case of "The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia," Andrew Lih's motivation, I think, is simply to spread the good word. This is less a thoughtful analysis than a movement handbook for would-be adherents, like "Black Power," say, or "The Moosewood Cookbook."

Hooray for them

"Imagine a world in which every person is given free access to the sum of human knowledge. That's what we're doing," begins the foreword by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wikipedia, adds the collective that wrote the first chapter by wiki, laying out their philosophy of collaborative knowledge, "is something by design that is pure, empowering and untainted by commerce." (Writing well, like achieving a perfect tremolo or getting a good scald on fried chicken, is one of those arts that stubbornly resists crowdsourcing.) That storied Wikipedian neutrality? Net only.

Like all movement manifestoes, "The Wikipedia Revolution" marshals an impressive amount of insta-hagiography. It starts with reeducation ("To understand Wikipedia's community, one must understand the robust online culture that directly preceded it . . .") before shifting into the story of Wales himself. "Doris, ever the educator, was optimistic too," Lih writes about the mother of the future Wikipedia founder, "buying a set of the World Book Encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman not long after becoming a mother. Jimmy, the firstborn, was not even three years old at the time. She didn't know it then, but she was planting a seed that would inspire a phenomenon."

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'Secret Son: A Novel' by Laila Lalami

'Secret Son: A Novel' by Laila Lalami

Reviewed By Bernadette Murphy
LA Times

Laila Lalami's new novel, "Secret Son," brings readers into the down-and-out sections of Casablanca, Morocco, to follow the travails of Youssef El Mekki, a young man trying to rise above the abject poverty into which he was born. Youssef knows certain things about himself: He knows his father, whom he doesn't remember, was a respected fourth-grade teacher who died while hanging lights for a religious feast, falling three floors and breaking his neck. He knows his mother is an orphan and thus the two of them must make their hardscrabble way together with no extended family to help.

He knows he is poor with few opportunities, but he's working hard to make the best of whatever chances he has by studying hard. Though not religious, he knows that the government is never going to help him and his fellow slum-dwellers in Hay An Najat, the poverty-steeped neighborhood where he resides in a shack of a home, but that Al Hizb ("The Party" that rallies for Muslim fundamentalism) is there with food and tents after devastating floods, promising "Power to the people through God, with God, and by God."

All the truths of Youssef's life will be challenged as the narrative winds its way, delivering both blows and windfalls from mektub (fate), that element that can't help but "split someone's life in a Before and After." The biggest revelation is that Youssef's father is not dead, but is actually Nabil Amrani, a respected, powerful and wealthy man. Youssef wonders what his life would be like if his father were to claim him, the secret product of an encounter with a household servant. "His existence until that moment had been nothing more than a role. . . . If he could be Youssef Amrani, he would not have to play any part at all. He could be, at long last, himself."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

'The Age of the Unthinkable' By Joshua Cooper Ramo

'The Age of the Unthinkable' By Joshua Cooper Ramo


The philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs (like Plato, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen and Proust), who know one big thing and tend to view the world through the lens of a single organizing principle, and foxes (like Herodotus, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Goethe, Balzac and Joyce), who know many things and who pursue various unrelated, even contradictory ends.

According to Joshua Cooper Ramo’s provocative new book, “The Age of the Unthinkable,” one study — in which hundreds of experts in subjects like economics, foreign policy and politics were asked to make predictions about the short-term future and whose predictions were evaluated five years later — showed that foxes, with their wide-ranging curiosity and willingness to embrace change, tended to be far more accurate in their forecasts than hedgehogs, eager for closure and keen on applying a few big ideas to an array of situations.

It’s a finding enthusiastically embraced by Mr. Ramo, who argues in these pages that today’s complex, interconnected, globalized world requires policy makers willing to toss out old assumptions (about cause and effect, deterrence and defense, nation states and balances of power) and embrace creative new approaches. Today’s world, he suggests, requires resilient pragmatists who, like the most talented Silicon Valley venture capitalists on the one hand or the survival-minded leadership of Hezbollah on the other, possess both an intuitive ability to see problems in a larger context and a willingness to rejigger their organizations continually to grapple with ever-shifting challenges and circumstances.

With this volume, Mr. Ramo, managing director at the geostrategic advisory firm Kissinger Associates and a former editor at Time magazine, seems to have set out to write a Malcolm Gladwellesque book: a book that popularizes complicated scientific theories while illustrating its arguments with colorful case studies and friendly how-to exhortations.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

'Not Becoming My Mother' by Ruth Reichl

'Not Becoming My Mother' by Ruth Reichl

Reviewed By Jonathan Kirsch
LA Times

Ruth Reichl is a commanding and daunting figure in American culture. Beginning in the 1970s, she played a key role in revolutionizing food and restaurant journalism, wielded make-or-break influence as a restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and later the New York Times, and continues to loom large as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine.

With her fourth book, "Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way," however, Reichl looks backward and inward in an attempt to understand and explain her mother, both to herself and to us.

At barely 100 pages, "Not Becoming My Mother" is a meditation rather than a memoir but is no less affecting for its brevity. Reichl is performing in public what is, after all, a rite of passage: the contemplation of a deceased parent. In that sense, her little book is an exploration of one of life's biggest mysteries.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

'It All Began With Wilt' By Cecil Mosenson

It All Began With Wilt
By Cecil Mosenson

Reviewed By David Cohen
Philadelphia Inquirer

The ghost of Wilt Chamberlain still towers over Philadelphia-area basketball.

Except for suburbanite Kobe Bryant, no local player has ever come close to matching Chamberlain's accomplishments. So many other phenoms - from Clarence Tillman and Billy Thompson to Eddie Griffin and Dallas Comegys to Milt and Dajuan Wagner - simply fizzled out in his shadow.

Beyond that, the magnitude of Chamberlain's feats is still staggering. His 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors on March 2, 1962, was like a moment when the heavens aligned - unprecedented, unreal, and unlikely ever to be matched.

Cecil Mosenson knows these things, and he knows them better than most. Having guided Chamberlain at Overbrook High, Mosenson has lived the last half-century known as "the guy who coached Wilt" - a tag that stuck with him even as he spent decades helping other youngsters as a coach, teacher, and principal. Chamberlain's ghost presumably is never far from his side.

Of course, that is why this book exists - so Mosenson can tell the stories about Chamberlain that everyone asks him to tell, as well as remind the world he's accomplished other things. The result is an autobiographical collection of anecdotes.

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'Conversations With Frank Gehry' by Barbara Isenberg

'Conversations With Frank Gehry' by Barbara Isenberg

Reviewed By Christopher Hawthorne
LA Times

My hopes, I'll admit, were not especially high for "Conversations With Frank Gehry," Barbara Isenberg's collection of recent interviews with the architect. Particularly in public, Gehry can be reticent, even uncomfortable, when discussing the ideas behind his buildings. Though there are certainly architects -- Rem Koolhaas, Robert Venturi, Elizabeth Diller and Peter Eisenman among them -- who use the process of talking and writing as a kind of design software, shaping concepts that show up later in their work, Gehry is not one of them.

But a couple of things make "Conversations With Frank Gehry" surprisingly rich and even, at times, revelatory. One is that Gehry, who turned 80 earlier this year, is growing more reflective, even wistful, about his past. (My sense is that this wistfulness is neither involuntary nor perfectly organic: Gehry has always been an artful packager of his legend.) The second is that Gehry's long relationship with Isenberg, a journalist who has worked for The Times and the Wall Street Journal and who has been interviewing Gehry since the 1980s, has produced a level of trust and familiarity that allows him to open up in ways he has rarely done publicly.

In certain respects the book, which was born when Gehry asked Isenberg to work with him on an oral history, operates as a lo-fi, casual biography of the architect. It includes extensive material on the architect's childhood in Toronto; his move to Los Angeles as a teenager; his studies at USC and Harvard; the decision, in 1954, to change his last name from Goldberg to Gehry; his time in the U.S. Army; and the architects whose work he has studied most closely, including Alvar Aalto and the French Modernist Le Corbusier ("number one on my hit parade").

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

'The Missing' By Tim Gautreaux

'The Missing' By Tim Gautreaux

Reviewed By Chuck Leddy
Boston Globe

Tim Gautreaux's absorbing novel is a reflection on how loss can haunt and possibly destroy us. The novel's main character, Sam Simoneaux, was a baby in the backwoods of Louisiana when a group of outlaws killed his entire family. Sam survived because he was hidden away. Gautreaux's narrative explores what this loss has done to Sam's soul: Can the adult Sam accept what happened or will he seek revenge?

The author paints the novel's various settings with great skill, as he follows Sam from the battlefields of World War I, to 1920s New Orleans, to a riverboat navigating the Mississippi River. Throughout, Sam is followed by loss. Landing in France with the US Army on the last day of World War I, Sam imagines the wartime carnage: "He looked out and saw half a million soldiers going at each other in a freezing rain, their bodies shredded by artillery, their faces torn off, their knees disintegrated into snowy red pulp, their lungs boiled out by poison gas."

Sam returns to his hometown, New Orleans, and works as a department store floorwalker. One day, a girl goes missing in the store, and Sam, searching for her, gets knocked unconscious by one of her kidnappers. The frantic parents, as well as the store's owner, blame Sam for not doing enough to find the child. After being fired, Sam is awash in guilt.

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"She Always Knew How" by Charlotte Chandler

"She Always Knew How" by Charlotte Chandler

Reviewed By Kevin Thomas
LA Times

Charlotte Chandler's gift at getting legendary show business figures to open up about themselves is unique. For "She Always Knew How," Chandler not only got the last major interview with Mae West -- not long before her death in 1980 at 87 -- but also what is almost certainly the most extensive interview West ever gave.

It's not that "She Always Knew How" is full of surprises, but that its depth and breadth brings West to life as thoughtful, caring and reflective, a woman of resilient character, self-knowledge and shrewdness in regard to human nature and in sustaining a career over eight decades.

As is well known, West had an extraordinarily close and loving relationship with her Bavarian-born mother Matilda, whose parents forbade her to go on the stage. As a result, she encouraged her daughter. Here, West talks at length about her mother's unstinting confidence in her; Matilda saw her daughter triumph on Broadway with the iconic "Diamond Lil" in 1928, but she died before West went on to conquer Hollywood.

West is candid about how her mother's focus on her exacted a price on both her younger sister, Beverly, who also had theatrical dreams, and, to a lesser extent, on her younger brother, John. Born in 1893, West began performing in lodge halls in her native Brooklyn at the age of 5 and in time became the key support for her entire family, which she remained for the rest of her life.

She made no bones about being less close to her father John West, who acquired some renown as the prizefighter Battlin' Jack. Yet in talking to Chandler, West discovers that she had more feelings for him than she realized, crediting him for being a loving and attentive father. Surely, it's significant that West was always attracted to rugged men like her father -- especially boxers and wrestlers. She emphasizes the comfort in which she and her siblings were raised; apparently, Matilda got some financial assistance from relatives because John West was no great shakes as a breadwinner.

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Monday, April 13, 2009


'How It Ended'

Reviewed By Janet Maslin
NY Times

Jay McInerney’s writing career has lasted nearly three decades, and what has Mr. McInerney got to show for it? Seven novels, but the world at large can name only his first (“Bright Lights, Big City”). Two essay collections devoted to wine. Prizes (from the James Beard Foundation and the Deauville Film Festival), but not the ones to which literary lights usually aspire. A party-guy reputation borne out by the elements (drugs, infidelity, name dropping and social climbing) that loom large in his fiction. And an etiquette that dictates that when a woman is about to snort cocaine, a gentleman helps by holding back her hair.

Now comes the game changer: “How It Ended,” a collection that comprises 26 short stories spanning 26 years. From afar this concept does not seem promising. The stories’ consistent length (an average of 12 pages) suggests an author who can hack them out as magazine filler.

The contention that seven of them belong in this collection because they were published in hardcover but not in paperback sounds feeble. And Mr. McInerney’s introductory comment that the short story is like a one-night stand also has the ring of an excuse. On the frequent occasions when his characters enjoy one-night stands, they’re guilty about it in the morning.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'The Glister' by John Burnside

'The Glister' by John Burnside

Reviewed By Michael Harris
LA Times

A moral fable in the guise of a murder mystery, John Burnside's "The Glister" has an unusual protagonist: its own prose style. Burnside, a Scot, has published 11 collections of poetry as well as a memoir, "A Lie About My Father," and fiction, including the novel "The Devil's Footprints." Here, the language in which it's told is crucial to how we read this darkly beautiful meditation on death, guilt and redemption.

Not that there isn't a hero of the regular, human sort: Leonard Wilson, a precociously bookish 15-year-old boy in a derelict Scottish industrial town. At intervals of a year or two, five of Leonard's schoolmates, all boys, have vanished. The authorities debunk widespread fears of foul play by claiming the boys have run off to the big city. Leonard knows better: "People from the Innertown don't leave, not even to go on holiday or visit relatives. They talk about leaving all the time, of course, but they never actually get out."

Why? In part, because the huge chemical plant that once gave work to the town's residents poisoned everything before it was closed down: soil, vegetation, animals, people. The older generation has died off or, like Leonard's father, languishes on the dole, prey to exotic illnesses. But the malaise is more than physical. It's a sin: "the sin of omission, the sin of averting our gaze and not seeing what was going on in front of our eyes. The sin of not wanting to know; the sin of knowing everything and not doing anything about it. The sin of knowing things on paper but not knowing them in our hearts. Everybody knows that sin."

The local constable, John Morrison, finds the first missing boy one night, ritualistically slain, hanging from a tree, but rather than publicize the crime or investigate it himself he phones Brian Smith, the home-grown magnate to whom he owes his job. Smith orders a coverup. Morrison, an insecure man with an alcoholic wife, obeys, at soul-destroying cost. As the years pass, and more boys disappear, he loses all self-respect. His only rebellious gesture, a secret one, is to tend a little garden in the woods as a shrine to the boys.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'Yogi Berra - Eternal Yankee' By Allen Barra

Reviewed by Bill Lyon

Philadelphia Inquirer

With his stocky, runty torso and his boardinghouse-reach arms and his stubby, ungainly legs, he looked like he had been assembled from leftover parts, or as one writer of the day put it: "A body only an anthropologist could love."

But Lawrence Peter Berra played the most difficult and demanding position in all of sports, and played it so uncommonly well that there are people who consider him the greatest at his position of all time, and make a compelling, statistic-buttressed argument in his behalf.

One of those people is Allen Barra - one vowel removed from, and no relation to, his subject - a prolific and decorated writer of books, columns, and magazine articles, a baseball maven, and an unabashed champion of Berra, who is one of those people instantly recognized by one name. In this case:


The Grand Master of the Malaprop.

Surely the most quoted athlete of all time, cited so frequently that it requires some diligent digging to unearth exactly what he said and what he might have said. Or as Yogi himself might observe: "If I didn't say it, I should have."

Barra on Berra, neatly timed for Opening Day, makes for an impressive tome. It is an exhaustively researched, meticulously prepared, and lovingly presented biography of a man whom the author proclaims to be "America's most popular former athlete." (I would counter with Muhammad Ali, but that's a matter of opinion.)

It will require more willpower than I possess not to sneak ahead and turn immediately to Appendix B, Page 396, for a sampling of Yogiisms. Herewith, indulge:

When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

You know, a nickel isn't worth a dime any more. (To the economist Milton Friedman.)

What paper do you write for? (Upon being introduced to Ernest Hemingway.)

Thank you for making this day necessary. (To the fans, on Yogi Berra Day.)

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Monday, April 6, 2009

'Columbine,' by Dave Cullen

Reviewed By David L. Ulin
LA Times

Forget everything you thought you knew. The girl who professed her faith in God before being gunned down in the library. The Trenchcoat Mafia and the feud between the goths and jocks. The idea that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- the two Columbine High School seniors who, on April 20, 1999, killed 12 of their fellow students and one teacher in what was, at the time, the worst school shooting in the history of the United States -- were disaffected, unpopular, motivated by resentment or revenge. Even the fact that the killings took place on Adolf Hitler's birthday was a coincidence: The boys had planned to do it a day earlier but hadn't been able to get the ammunition in time.

All of this, Dave Cullen notes in "Columbine," his comprehensive account of the tragedy and its aftermath, is the story we've been given, the mythic version, the one that (if anything can) aspires to make a kind of sense. It's a rendering in which the pieces fit together and the terror of the day is mitigated by small moments of redemption, whispers of epiphany and grace.

The problem, however, is that none of it happened -- or more accurately, none of it happened exactly like that. Instead, Cullen points out, the Columbine story was obscured from the outset: first, by the misperceptions of the witnesses, and then, almost immediately, by the misreporting of the media, which at its worst resembled nothing so much as an enormous game of telephone. "The Columbine situation played out slowly," Cullen writes, "with the cameras rolling. Or at least it appeared that way: the cameras offered the illusion we were witnessing the event. But the cameras arrived too late. . . . We saw fragments. What the cameras showed us was misleading. . . . The data was correct; the conclusions were wrong."

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Posthumous Crichton Novels on the Way

By Motoko Rich
NY Times

Michael Crichton, the best-selling author of technological thrillers like “The Andromeda Strain” and “Jurassic Park” who died of cancer in November, left behind at least one finished novel and about one-third of a second. Both will be released over the next year and a half, his publisher said.

HarperCollins, Mr. Crichton’s publisher for his previous three books, will release “Pirate Latitudes,” an adventure story set in Jamaica in the 17th century, on Nov. 24. The company also plans to publish a technological thriller in the fall of 2010, a novel that Mr. Crichton was working on when he died.

Jonathan Burnham, publisher of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, said Mr. Crichton evidently wrote “Pirate Latitudes” at the same time that he wrote “Next,” his last published novel.

The new novel, discovered by Mr. Crichton’s assistant in the writer’s computer files after his death, features a pirate named Hunter and the governor of Jamaica, and their plan to raid a Spanish treasure galleon.

“It’s eminently and deeply and thoroughly researched,” Mr. Burnham said. “It’s packed through with great detail about navigation and how pirates operated, and links between the New World and the Caribbean and Spain.”

The novel represents a departure from Mr. Crichton’s longtime fictional preoccupation with the moral and social ramifications of science and technology. But Mr. Burnham pointed out that “Pirate Latitudes” also harks back to the kind of historical yarn that Mr. Crichton wrote in the “The Great Train Robbery,” first published in 1975. Mr. Burnham said that the book needed little editing and that Harper planned a first printing of 1 million copies.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"The Frozen Thames" by Helen Humphreys

"The Frozen Thames" by Helen Humphreys

Reviewed By Alan Cheuse
Chicago Tribune

Canadian writer Helen Humphreys deals in her lovely prose experiment, "The Frozen Thames," with a kind of creation—the way that water turns to ice in winter—in 40 winters to be exact, 40 winters over the course of seven centuries.

Over and over again the Thames freezes. Birds freeze and fall from the air. Londoners face the cold and danger and pleasure of river ice. Boatmen lament the loss of free-flowing water; the poor sometimes freeze in mid-crossing; lovers embrace there; plague victims suffer there; royalty celebrates this mystery of physics and chemistry.

As Humphreys has a lady-in-waiting to the 32-year-old Queen Elizabeth I soliloquize in the mid-1600s, "The ice is new to us. The old ways of behaving don't seem to apply here. ... It is as though, in the very fact that the river froze, anything else might suddenly become possible as well."

Reading this inventive little volume, with a bit of a shiver, you know what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to see ice for the first time.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

'House of Cards' By William D. Cohan

'House of Cards' By William D. Cohan

Reviewed By Chuck Leddy
Boston Globe

William D. Cohan opens his economic narrative with Bear Stearns's dramatic March 2008 collapse, which concluded with a Federal Reserve-backed, last-minute merger with investment titan J.P. Morgan.

As Cohan's meticulous analysis makes clear, the investment bank's plunge was caused by a combination of factors, including a lack of internal controls, disengaged leadership, inadequate regulatory oversight by the US government, a plunging housing market, and Bear Stearns's overexposure to mortgage-backed securities.

Cohan, himself a former Wall Street investment banker, describes the rise and fall of Bear Stearns, detailing how its swashbuckling corporate culture and brutal internal politics undermined the bank at a time when the financial system suffered a liquidity crisis. Bear Stearns's customers and creditors, Cohan shows, reacted to the bank's overexposure to subprime mortgages in a predictable way: Customers began pulling their money out, and creditors stopped lending.

This liquidity crisis doomed the bank and kicked off the near-collapse of our entire financial system. Cohan explains why federal officials intervened last March: "Their concern was that the financial system had become increasingly fragile . . . and Bear Stearns's failure might cause tsunami-like damage if it was not contained." Cohan quotes a Morgan insider regarding its absorption of Bear Stearns: "This is insane. Why would you ever want to take on this piece of [expletive], other than out of some sort of patriotic sense of obligation?"

After describing the dramatic March collapse of Bear Stearns, Cohan goes back to discuss the beginnings of the bank. He discusses its "opportunistic culture" suspicious of theory. "If you made money for the firm," notes Cohan, you were given latitude to run things the way you wanted. "This haphazard strategy is key to understanding what happened in March 2008."

For example, when Bear Stearns got into the booming hedge fund markets by setting up its own line, it made money based largely on betting on the skyrocketing housing market in the form of mortgage-backed securities. Yet as abuses in the subprime housing sector began emerging, the housing market dipped and so did the value of Bear Stearns's securities. By the end, Bear Stearns would have billions of dollars of debt and a portfolio of toxic assets that nobody wanted to buy or accept as collateral.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

"World's End" by Pablo Neruda

"World's End" by Pablo Neruda
Reviewed By Richard Rayner
LA Times

"World's End," originally published in Spanish in 1969, toward the end of the career of the great poet Pablo Neruda (he died in 1973, soon after the coup that killed his friend and compatriot Chilean President Salvador Allende), is a book-length sequence that weaves together the personal and the political, the public and the private, the domestic and the global. For Neruda, poetry meant much more than the expression of emotion and personality. It was a sacred way of being and came with duties. He wrote poetry to explain himself to himself, but he had a mission to shape the world too. He was opposed to W.H. Auden's famous declaration: "Poetry makes nothing happen."

Ambitious in every sense

Neruda didn't buy that for a moment. For him, poetry could change everything. He lived a life of passionate engagement and his work was ambitious in every sense. He was, as American poet Campbell McGrath has written, "president of Pablo Neruda Enterprises / director of the great public works project: Pablo Neruda." "World's End" -- here translated into English in full for the first time by William O'Daly in a bilingual edition -- balances nothing less than the tumult of a century against a lifetime's personal vision.

Neruda personally experienced many key historical events (the Spanish Civil War, for example, in which his friend and fellow poet Lorca was assassinated) and bore witness to others. Here he rants full-on against U.S. involvement in Vietnam: "Why were they compelled to kill / innocents so far from home, / while the crimes pour cream / into the pockets of Chicago? / Why go so far to kill / Why go so far to die?" Elsewhere he rebukes (and excuses) himself for having believed in the tyrant Stalin for too long, remaining loyal to "el partido" even when other leading writers and intellectuals drawn, like him, to Marxism and the Soviet Union during the turbulence of the 1930s, had long since rejected Moscow's leash. "I was unaware of that which we were unaware," he writes. "But light was discovered / and we recovered our reason: / not for any man or his crime / would we throw the good / into the cellar of the wicked."

This may not seem like much of a mea culpa, but Neruda the idealist struggled to come to terms with the failure of the Soviet experiment even while he railed against an America that, he believed, had moved dangerously beyond the traditions of freedom and democracy expounded by Lincoln and Whitman, the poet whom Neruda revered above all others. Neruda described "World's End" as his "bitter book," and one of its subjects, certainly, is disillusion. "I have taken a kick / from time and it is now a mess, / the sad box of my life," he writes. "I cannot show people / my collection of shivers: / I felt lonely in a house / riddled with leaks / in a downpour that heard no appeal."

The desolation recalls his earlier groundbreaking book "Residence on Earth." There's the same sense of life turned to ashes and strangeness, wonderfully expressed. But in Neruda the possibility of revival is never far away. That's why so many readers throughout the world still rely upon him. He sings of despair in tones that soon thrill again, using his verse like a shaft of light, cross-examining the darkness so that a switch can be turned, or a metaphor spun magically into something that sustains. "As a poet baker / I prepare the fire, the flour, / the leavening, the heart, / and I, involved up to the elbows, / kneading the light of the oven, / the green water of language, / so the bread that happens to me / sells itself in the bakery."

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Friday, March 27, 2009

“Cheever: A Life” By Blake Bailey

“Cheever: A Life” By Blake Bailey

Reviewed By Bret Anthony Johnston
New York Times

Blake Bailey’s “Cheever: A Life” opens with a reference to the time John Cheever emerged, presumably drunk and definitely naked, from his Boston apartment. It was seven years before his death, a winter evening when he was to accompany John Updike to the symphony. His books were out of print, his marriage on the verge of collapse and his ambiguous sexual orientation a daily torment. He had taken to walking the streets and drinking with bums. Upon discovering Cheever in this compromised state, Updike, as he described it, “primly concentrated on wedging him into his clothes.” Afterward they went to Symphony Hall as if nothing unusual had occurred. Essentially, nothing had.

Bringing the lives of writers’ writers to the reading public is Mr. Bailey’s specialty. In “A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates” (2003) he delivered a sensitive and powerful portrait of the vastly underappreciated author of “The Easter Parade” and “Revolutionary Road.” Following Yates with Cheever makes sense. Both men waged desperate, lifelong battles with alcoholism, and Cheever, like Yates, spent his career attacking the hypocrisy of suburban life in keenly observed, downhearted narratives. Ultimately, though, their career trajectories diverged. After publishing three story collections and the novels “The Wapshot Chronicle” and “The Wapshot Scandal,” Cheever was hailed as “Ovid in Ossining” by Time magazine in a 1964 cover story — he also made the cover of Newsweek in 1977 with the release of his novel “Falconer” — while Yates remained a critical darling ignored by readers.

Yates never had a story in The New Yorker, whereas Cheever published a staggering 121 stories there. Most of those stories, Mr. Bailey writes, were born of autobiography or notes recorded in Cheever’s journal, a voluminous daily accounting maintained, Cheever said, as “a means of refreshing my memory.” (Only a fraction of the journal — 4,300 typed, single-space pages — has been published, but Mr. Bailey had total access.)

Cheever wrote conventional and experimental stories alike, though in fiction, as in life, he was obsessed with the dark secrets of the middle class. In “The Enormous Radio,” one of his masterpieces, a married couple find that their new radio inexplicably allows them to eavesdrop on their neighbors. The Westcotts “overheard demonstrations of indigestion, carnal love, abysmal vanity, faith, and despair.”

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Monday, March 23, 2009

"Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand: A Novel of Adam and Eve" by Giaconda Belli

"Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand: A Novel of Adam and Eve" by Giaconda Belli

Reviewed By Susan Salter Reynolds
Chicago Tribune

The creation story is the best improv exercise ever invented. Creation and destruction, self and no-self, story and history, fiction and nonfiction chase themselves in endless circles. The creation story is the Mobius strip, the double helix, the pattern language of art.

For an artist to take it on, she must feel that she is really ready to take it on. It is an act of calligraphy—too much ego, and the mirror that is the story cracks, the pool ripples. Narcissus remains deluded. Told with pure intent, imagination and clarity, the story is generous, capacious. The story becomes The Story.

So you will be glad to hear that Gioconda Belli, who is not a restrained sort of writer, keeps her creation story simple. First, she peels off the old layers of morality—her creation story is hardly a cautionary tale. Second, good and evil, if they exist at all, are two sides of the same state of being. The lovers, who try to figure out who this "Other" is and why he punished them so harshly, even wonder whether the serpent is God's Eve, if the serpent was taken from the Other, just as Eve was from Adam.

This is important, for if there is a new, evolved religion, surely it must embrace the possibility that we are pure at heart, that we do the best we can. To Belli's Adam and Eve, things that are good feel good; things that are bad feel bad. Belli's Eve sincerely believes that God wouldn't have put the tree or the fruit or the knowledge of good and evil in their path unless he had wanted them to partake.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers, March 8-14

Compiled By The Boston Globe

1. Outliers
By Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown.
2. Last Lion
By the Team at the Boston Globe. Simon & Schuster.
3. The Yankee Years
By Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. Doubleday.
4. The Lost City of Z
By David Grann. Doubleday.
5. The Gardner Heist
By Ulrich Boser. Collins.
6. The Inaugural Address 2009
By Barack Obama. Penguin.
7. Animals Make Us Human
By Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
8. Food Matters
By Mark Bittman. Simon & Schuster.
9. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
By Steve Harvey. Amistad.
10. Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
By Ina Garten. Clarkson Potter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'Stealing MySpace' By Julia Angwin

'Stealing MySpace' By Julia Angwin

Reviewed By Janet Maslin
New York Times

There’s at least one story that has never been told on the no-holds-barred social networking Web site MySpace. That story is the chaotic, action-packed history of MySpace itself. Now Julia Angwin, a technology and media reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has done prodigious digging into the shady business practices, trailer-park aesthetics, lucky accidents and borderline personality types that have allowed MySpace to tap into the American psyche.

Her account is necessarily convoluted. But like the site itself, Ms. Angwin’s book about this, “Stealing MySpace,” is accessible to anyone, except during its most intensive dissections of deal-making. Overall, you needn’t know a portal from a platform to follow thihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs sprawling, rollicking Internet history.

There are many books about how tech stars struck it rich in Silicon Valley. “Stealing MySpace” isn’t one of them. This isn’t a tale of shy computer geeks making billions by creating perfect algorithms. Instead it’s about rogue marketers cobbling together half-baked plans, trying reckless gambits, relying on a “get it out fast, fix it later” philosophy and never bothering to worry about the consequences. With its Santa Monica corporate ambience and utter lack of scruples, Ms. Angwin says, MySpace qualifies as “a Hollywood-style media company — one where crazy creative people run the show, and nobody really knows what makes a hit or a flop.”

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Monday, March 16, 2009

'Etta' By Gerald Kolpan

'Etta' By Gerald Kolpan

Reviewed by Caroline Berson
Philadelphia Inquirer

Our heroine is dead before the tale can begin. The opening pages deliver the obituary of Lorinda Jameson Carr, an 80-year-old woman remembered for her philanthropic work and sharpshooting skills. Her adult life is well chronicled by the New York Herald Tribune, but "little is known of Mrs. Carr's early life."

And thus our story begins, not as a novel built on suspense, but rather on bringing to life a little-known member of the infamous Hole in the Wall Gang and capturing the mood of the Wild West.

According to historians, Etta Place was either a prostitute or a schoolteacher who, through unknown means, was rumored to be the girlfriend or wife of Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid.

Gerald Kolpan's version of history opens on a gentleman's farm in 1898 Philadelphia, where Lorinda Jameson, celebrated debutante and daring horseback rider, lives with her alcoholic father. Lorinda's lifestyle disintegrates when her father commits suicide rather than deal with his growing debt.

In a meeting with the family lawyer, Lorinda learns that one of her father's lenders is a notorious Sicilian gang.

"Your poor father had been laid to considerable debt by a cabal of gamblers, unscrupulous and desperate men who preyed upon your father's weakness for horse betting, no doubt with his enthusiastic support," the lawyer says. "Like the remainder of his creditors, these villains have contacted this office and informed me of their need to be remunerated . . . [or] they shall be forced into actions that will mean suffering for any whom your father loved in life."

To escape their promised revenge, Lorinda accepts a new name - Miss Etta Place - and travels west to Colorado, where she serves travelers as a Harvey Girl waitress. Etta soon realizes that her incomparable beauty attracts unwanted advances and is forced to extremes to defend her pure character. She escapes to "Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming territory. Somewhere between the beginning of nowhere and the end of nothing."

Here she finds herself in the company of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Kolpan first mentions the well-known outlaws by including a wanted poster in his narrative, one that identifies their criminal occupations as "bank robber and highwaymen, train robber, cattle and horse thief." These stark depictions are later softened by introducing different perspectives. Kolpan breaks away from his journalism training to reveal the souls in his novel through diary entries, newspaper articles, personal letters, and straight third-person narrative.

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'The Kindly Ones,' by Jonathan Littell

'The Kindly Ones,' by Jonathan Littell

Reviewed By Laila Lalami
LA Times

Literature has given us many unsympathetic protagonists yet relatively few genuine monsters: "Lolita's" Humbert Humbert, Shakespeare's Richard III and "American Psycho's" Patrick Bateman come to mind. In each case, the writer was successful because the reader was drawn into the narrative by the beauty of the language, a masterful use of point of view, or an intriguing personal life against which the monstrosity of the main character could be highlighted. In "The Kindly Ones," the Prix Goncourt-winning novel that has created a cultural sensation in France and is now being published in the United States, Jonathan Littell has done none of this, with the result that his novel reads like a pornographic catalog of horrors.

"The Kindly Ones" is ostensibly the memoir of Maximilien Aue, a legal scholar who joins the main intelligence branch within the SS and slowly rises through the echelons of power. As a Nazi officer, he witnesses or participates in the major events of World War II -- the Eastern Front, the Battle of Stalingrad, the massacres in Auschwitz -- but evades capture after the fall of the Third Reich. He flees to France, uses his prewar connections to start a lace business, marries, has children and grandchildren, and leads the quiet life of a petit bourgeois.

In occasional flashbacks, the reader discovers a few details about Aue's birth and upbringing. When Aue was just a young boy, his father, a German veteran of World War I, went to visit a relative and never returned. Aue's mother then married a Frenchman, moving the family to the Côte d'Azur. For several years, Aue carried on an incestuous relationship with his twin sister, Una, until the two were found out and swiftly separated. Aue later has many homosexual encounters because, he says, he hopes to replicate his sister's sexual pleasures with him. If you think this story is unpleasant, or convoluted, or tragically Greek, wait until you get to the last third of the book.

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