Saturday, August 24, 2013

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard died today. No doubt, by the time you’re reading this, he’s been dead for a little while. It came as a bit of a shock to me. It shouldn’t have. After all, he was 87 years old. I don’t know why I was surprised except that maybe someone as talented as he was seems eternal.

I’ve always loved Leonard’s work even before I knew that he was writing it. I loved the movies he wrote as well. I’ve never been much of a fan of the Western, but I’ve read all of his. 3:10 to Yuma is my favorite western movie, up there with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

No one wrote about the pettiness of evil the way that he did. He captured it so incredibly well. And the evil he wrote about was the everyday kind of evil that so many of us struggle with all the time. He captured those moments when the wrong thing seems to be the easy way out, and how devastating making the wrong choice can be.

Most of us have had those moments when we could take a little thrill or a little money by doing some evil little that seemed innocuous. Think back to when you were in your twenties or teens. You probably had hundreds of those moments. I did. He reminds me every time how good it was that I didn’t make those kinds of mistakes. No one wrote about stupid people and stupid moments better than he did.

My favorite novel of his is The Big Bounce, where a thrill seeker makes his life worse and worse by chasing thrills. I don’t know if anyone else loves that novel as much as I do, but the people he follows are so interesting because they are so real. They’re funny, even when they commit crimes and hurt each other. They’re the people I went to high school with, being dopey and getting into trouble. The only difference is that they’re old enough that there are consequences to their mistakes.

Elmore Leonard is a big part of the reason that I got into writing crime novels. My style is not like his, but no one’s style is. He was a true genius and a true artist, and I will miss him.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Two Minute Book Review -- Kenneth C. Davis's America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation

Generally, I'm leery of any history book that claims special knowledge that is going to be revealed or a radical knew way of looking at the world or ... well you get the idea. I mean, I like watching BBC and History Channel history programs, but they have to be sensationalized to be profitable and these book are the same. So I read this book. It's a pretty good straightforward discussion of American history. After the first section, it's all about the revolution. I'm not sure what was supposed to be the hidden part of the history however. There wasn't anything in it that I didn't know about, but he did a good job of telling American history without the unabashed fawning over those figures who are generally fawned over -- Washington, Jefferson, etc. I'd recommend it if you'd like a basic primer. Are high school's really not teaching this stuff? Yeah, Washington really screwed up in the 7 Years War. We've heard.

Monday, August 19, 2013

2 Minute Review -- John Sanford's Heat Lightning

The first modern mystery novel I ever read was John Sanford's Winter Prey. My professor made us read it, and though I read it begrudgingly, Sanford turned me instantly into a mystery-loving fool. He's a great writer. Tremendous. I don't know how I ever missed Heat Lightning, but I think it's his best. I love the ethos and strength of the main character, who maintains an air of incompetence and weakness until the bad guys realize that they've been lured in. I love his pattern on falling in love with every woman he dates. I even love the fishing. A fantastic book.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2 Minute Book Review -- Pat Barker's The Eye in the Door

I first read this in the 1990s but in the library I found that I had forgotten the whole thing. I wrote a paper for it in class, but I'd forgotten the whole thing. So I picked it back up thinking I'd probably put it down quickly. Not so. Loved it. Fantastic. Amazing. It follows up her biographical novel about Siegfried Sassoon and the other WWI poets. Now we're looking into assassinations, lost hopes, people being arrested for being conscientious objectors or homosexuals. You have to read this and Regeneration, which I also had forgotten completely and also loved immensely on the second read. It must have had something to do with the amount of reading I did in grad school, not the books themselves.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nothing Lasts for Long

I came out of my house that morning to find the block deserted. We lived way at the end of a lonely road in the woods with just a few neighbors. Over the last week, we’d gathered in the mornings to talk about the fire, whether we thought it was going to climb farther up the mountains and through our part of the forest. We’d talk about contingency plans and where we might stay. We wondered about insurance.

That morning though, I was alone on the street, my wife in the house with the dogs, trying to find a radio station that had news reports. I wandered down the block to my friends’ houses, looking inside, calling to them.

It was a nice day, maybe seventy five degrees with a light breeze going so that the smoke from the fire was blowing away from our house, leaving the forest silent and beautiful, making everything peaceful. Days that looked like these were the reason we’d moved up to the mountains. And at first glance, the street seemed beautiful too. Windows were open, and radios or televisions played inside. My next door neighbor had left a broom leaning against the front door.

I found out later that they’d left the houses with radios playing and windows open in a desperate bid to fool looters. They wanted their places to seem occupied, but as I came down the road, I could feel the emptiness of the houses. I could feel the lack of people. It was as though all of my neighbors, maybe everyone in the world, had been plucked up and taken away mid-chore, and only my wife and I had been spared, and we were left to wander around confused and lonely.

It was only later that I was told the police had come down the street announcing the evacuation. I’d missed the whole thing. I’d slept right through it, and we were the last to leave.

We knew that we should leave now, and that we should grab anything that mattered and go. It was then that I learned what really mattered to me.

My wife mattered. My dogs mattered. My writing mattered.

That was it. I took some clothes, the dogs, my wife and the computers, and I drove away realizing that I didn’t care about anything else. It could all burn, and everything would still be all right.

It was an important lesson to learn. It’s taken me about ten years now to fully understand what that means. All of that was reinforced a few  years later by the housing market crash and a financially difficult time. The house was spared because firefighters are courageous, talented, and self-sacrificing. But I’ve given up just about everything I’ve owned, and I don’t care. We’ve gone from living in big houses and working all the time to maintain them, finally to where we are now, which is a tiny studio apartment on the beach.

We could certainly afford a bigger place, but there isn’t a thing in my house that matters except for my wife.  When it comes down to it, the only thing that matters to me are my passions. And I don’t need or want a big place to fulfill them.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Two Minute Book Review Sue Grafton's C is for Corpse

This is the third or fourth time I've read this book. If you haven't and you love mystery, pick up any of Grafton's novels. She's one of the best and one of the central mystery novelists of our time. She is one of the last of the classic mystery novelists and her books are genius. I love them. And frankly, I think I like the side characters more than Kinsey. She's great, but the ongoing soap opera of her elderly landlord's life is fascinating.

Friday, August 2, 2013

T. Anders Carson reads from I Knew It Would Come to This at Disneyland

In honor of T. Anders Carson, who is moving to Denmark today, I am posting a video of him reading from his poetry collection, I Knew It Would Come to This. He's reading at Disneyland, one of his favorite places in the world.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Two Minute Book Review -- Daniel Halpern's Foreign Neon

I'm reviewing this book 22 years after it came out. I read it because everyone loved it. You're supposed to love it. I think I need to read it again in a different mood. Maybe I was just tired. And it's not that I disliked it, but I can't remember a single poem.

I think I just need to come back to it when I'm ready for it.