Heads in Beds

The subtitle to Jacob Tomsky’s memoir, Heads in Beds, tells the book’s potential readers pretty much what to expect from it.  That subtitle reads: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, placing the book firmly in that category of insider looks at various service industries – anything, say, from restaurants to cab drivers to hotels, and the like.  In almost every case, the author of these books comes across as some combination of angry, fed up, sarcastic, demeaning toward customers, and just plain nasty.  Tomsky does not come across as angry about his plight in life as some of the other writers of these memoirs, but he does conform to the general pattern via his sarcasm and condescending attitude toward those seeking shelter for a night or two in whatever establishment happens to employ him at the time.
Jacob Tomsky is one of those unfortunate college graduates who completed his education in a field that does not exactly offer great odds of employment upon graduation: Philosophy (if I remember correctly).  All most by accident, Tomsky – a military brat with no real roots – began his hospitality career in New Orleans as a hotel parking valet, one of those guys largely dependent upon tips for the bulk of his spending money.  And he did well, learning all the little tricks that bring larger tips along the way, a lesson that will serve him well no matter what position he holds in the industry. 
Author Jacob Tomsky
He did so well, in fact, that within months he was plucked from the car-parker ranks and placed in charge of over 100 people responsible for cleaning and preparing rooms for the next day’s guests.  And, despite his obvious lack of enthusiasm about his new position, he did well enough with it to be moved again, this time to the front desk where he was able to put his tip-harvesting skills to good use.  (I hope I have not chronologically flipped these two positions, but I don’t have a copy of the book with which to check my memory.)
Sadly, however, Tomsky seems to feel that he has become trapped forever (primarily because that is all he has ever done) in a lifetime spent greeting hotel guests, lying to them, and ultimately milking them for every extra dime he can squeeze out of them.  He does not want to be there, but it is all he knows.  Thus, the sarcasm of his tone and the language he uses to describe his experiences with guests, co-workers, prostitutes, and hotel management.  That is not to say that Tomsky does not tell some interesting anecdotes in Heads in Beds, because he does.  Some of them are funny, some are sad, and more than a few are disgusting, so he does deliver everything promised by the book’s subtitle. 

Some readers, especially those who believe hotels are ripping them off, will find one section of the book to be particularly interesting.  This is a list of tips and reasons that hotels will almost certainly always remove any disputed charges to the room minibar or movie services.   In the end, however, Heads in Beds is pretty much just another memoir exposé of a type that has just about been done to death now.

Post # 2,549

Scarlett Johannson Is Not Happy About This Book

Actress Scarlett Johansson

Actress Scarlett Johannson really, really wants French author Grégoire Delacourt’s novel Le Première Chose Qu’on Regarde (The First Thing You See) banned.  But it is not going to happen.  Instead, the book is being translated and published in the U.K. by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on September 10.

Johannson did win a portion of the lawsuit she filed against the French publisher of the novel, but she prevailed on only one count of the suit and collected only a small portion of the amount she was demanding.  According to The Guardian:

“All of Scarlett Johansson’s demands were rejected except one thing that was seen to be an attack in her private life over two relations that she never had,” Emmanuelle Allibert of the publishers J-C Lattès told the Guardian at the time. “All her other demands … were rejected, notably that there should be a ban on the book being translated or made into a film. We just have to cut out the bit about the affairs.”

The novel’s plot does sound rather interesting: a man begins a relationship with a woman he believes to be Johannson, only to learn that she is really just a Scarlett Johannson lookalike.  Delacourt describes his novel this way:

“So I asked myself, as an old advertiser, a young writer, and a father of a normal age, what we were doing to our children to stop them liking themselves as they were. And I suspected that appearances (fashion, models, actors) had become a more important model than what is inside.”   

So what do you think?  Should writers be allowed to use real celebrities as fictional characters in their books, novels in which they can place those celebrities into whatever positions or circumstances they believe move the story along?   The judge in Johannson’s lawsuit did, in fact, rule that she was defamed by the book but he also ruled that the book can be translated and published around the world.  Is he right?  

The Pavement Bookworm Is Making a Difference

Philani Dladla, The Pavement Bookworm

Way back in January 2008, I started a post category that I labeled as “Readers.”  I use the label to highlight a special kind of reader, a person whose love of books has inspired them to do something that will likely change the lives of others.  If you check my sidebar, you will see that this is the 80th posting I’ve made about “Readers” in what is almost now eight years.  So they are out there…and people notice them and love them for what they do.  This guy, though, is definitely one of my favorites out of all eighty people I’ve highlighted.

Twenty-four-year-old Philani Dladla has become known as Johannesburg’s “Pavement Bookworm” because of how he supports himself by selling books on the corners of that city’s streets.  But Philani is no ordinary panhandler or recycler of books he finds in the trash.  Philani, you see, only sells books he has himself read and he offers a detailed book review with each purchase – and prices his books according to how much he enjoyed them.  But there is a whole lot more even than that to this man’s story, and One.org has the rest of the story:

“With some self-motivation and a lot of self-help books, I made the decision to stop taking drugs. But while I was helping myself I also wanted to help the other people I had been living on the streets with. So I started using the money I got from selling books to buy everyone soup and bread everyday instead of spending that money on drugs. Seeing their smiles motivated me to keep using the little I had to spread happiness. From that point on, I knew I never wanted to go back to being a drug addict.”

Click on the One.org line to learn more about Philani.  And if you are still not sold on this guy, take a look at this YouTube video in which he explains himself in great detail:

Philani mentions in this segment that he is working on his memoirs and, while there are not a lot of 24-year-olds whose memoirs I would be much interested in, I would love to see his story get published.  He is an amazing young man.

Post #2,547

The Fixer

The Fixer is my first experience with a Joseph Finder novel, and I have to admit that near the beginning of the book I experienced one of those “been there, done that” moments that had me questioning my intent to finish it.  But I persisted, and that turned out to be a good decision on my part because, in the process, I found out just how good a storyteller Finder is.
The “been there, done that” moment hit me when I realized that the thriller’s basic plot sounded very familiar to me.  Many, if not most, people have probably read at least one book, or seen at least one movie, in which the main character stumbles upon a small fortune in cash, or gold, or jewels, etc.  Then, in a weak moment, our hero decides to keep his find all for himself.  Bad move, that – and the rest of the story involves the guy trying to keep from being maimed or killed by the bad guys who want their loot back.  Well, that is the basic premise of The Fixer.  But Finder throws so many twists and turns, fun characters, and side plots into his story that I could not wait to see what was coming next and ended up quite enjoying the book.
Rick Hoffman’s (our hero) friends would probably agree that his judgment is not always the best.  Once a well respected up-an-coming investigative reporter, Rick made what turned out to be a terrible mistake by letting a slick Boston magazine hire him away from his newspaper job.  Now the magazine has failed and Rick, along with most all of his co-workers, is history.  Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that Rick is camping out in his father’s old house, an unheated structure that seems just about ready to fall down around him. 
Author Joseph Finder
Rick’s luck changes -but not for the better – when he finds a large stash of cash hidden in the old house by his father.  How did it get there?  Does it belong to his father, who has not lived in the house for eighteen years, or to someone his father had been hiding it from?  Rick, though, can’t resist the lure of all that cash, and when he starts throwing hundred-dollar bills around, he draws the notice of some very bad people – and they want their money back.  But, even more, they want Rick to stop trying to figure out why it was in his father’s house in the first place.
If The Fixer is typical of Finder’s writing, the man certainly knows how to tell a good story and give his readers a fun ride.  This definitely will not be the last Joseph Finder title I read. 

Thriller fans should enjoy this one. 

Post #2,546

Bogota Man Rescues Trashed Books. Shares Them with Community.

A Bogota trash man at work (not Mr. Gutierrez)

Ready for another great story about how one avid reader, in this case a man with an especially huge heart, can impact the lives of hundreds of poor children?

Well, let me introduce you to 53-year-old Jose Gutierrez, a garbage truck driver in Bogota, Columbia.  Gutierrez, himself an avid reader of the classic authors and more current literary fiction, just could not stand to see the books he found on his route through the wealthier areas of the city to be destroyed.  He took them home instead…and according to this U.S. News report, he starting sharing them with the kids in his neighborhood.

He says books are luxuries for boys and girls in low-income neighborhoods such as his, with new reading material at bookstores too expensive. There are 19 public libraries in Bogota, a city of 8.5 million, but tend to be located far away from poorer areas.
“This should be in all neighborhoods, on each corner of every neighborhood, in all the towns, in all departments, and all the rural areas,” says Gutierrez. “Books are our salvation and that is what Colombia needs.”

20,000 books and counting.  Readers are, indeed, very special people.  (By the way, I see that Anne Rice has taken to calling avid readers “People of the Page.”  I smile every time I see that.

Post #2,545

Book Trailer of the Week: "Hollow Man" by Mark Pryor

I have no idea what Hollow Man is about, and Mark Pryor is not an author I’m familiar with…but I really like the book trailer to publicize the novel that Mr. Pryor has put together with a lot of help from his children.  

Well done, guys.

I’ve said it often, but this one reminds me again of the power of a very short book trailer to place a book I would have otherwise never have heard of on my radar screen.  I may still never actually read it, but if I spot it in a bookstore, I will most certainly take a longer look at it than I would have before watching the trailer.  And that is what book trailers are all about, really.

The Fourth Watcher

Fans of the Poke Rafferty series will, of course, know that The Fourth Watcher (2008) was Timothy Hallinan’s second entry into the series.  As the novel opens, Poke has decided that his new family (Rose, the former bar girl he hopes to marry, and Miaow, the little girl he plucked off the streets of Bangkok for her own good) is the most important thing in the world to him.  He wants to abandon the travel book series he’s been writing so that the three of them can settle comfortably into a stable lifestyle.  

If only her were so lucky.

Rose and her business partner Peachy are finally having a bit of success with the maid service they run using former bar girls as cleaning crews.  By now, with the help of Poke’s investment into the business, Rose and Peachy have given several young women the opportunity to leave the sordid lifestyle associated with Thailand’s sex trade industry.  But now, the business has inadvertently become linked to what appears to be a North Korean counterfeiting ring – an operation that takes no prisoners.

And then things really get complicated.  Two people from Poke’s past, one of whom he didn’t even know existed, come into his world just when he can least afford the distraction.  Poke already has an American Secret Service man after him who would love nothing better than to lock him up for a good long time; now he has to deal with a reunion that will prove to be as dangerously deadly as anything he has ever faced in his life.  He and Arthit, the Thai policeman who is Poke’s best friend in the world, are going to have to scramble if they are going to save the lives of those closest to them.   

The real strength of the Poke Rafferty series is Hallinan’s well-developed recurring characters.  Poke, Rose, Miaow, and Arthit all come with emotional baggage of their own but they meld into a unit that offers each of them exactly the emotional support, love, and friendship they need to finally make something good of their lives.  It won’t be easy, but let it be known that they are still doing fine some five books (and counting, I hope) after The Fourth Watcher.

That said, because I have read the series out of order, I can also tell you that the books get even better as the series ages.  This one emphasizes the “thriller” aspect of the plot to the point that it becomes a bit overcomplicated in the end.  I prefer more “literary” thrillers (yes, I believe there is such a thing), and that’s exactly the direction Hallinan, over time, moves the Poke Rafferty series.  Don’t miss ‘em.

Post #2,543

Have you read a good t-shirt lately?

A Farewell to Arms

I saw someone wearing this A Farewell to Arms t-shirt yesterday and it was such an eye-catcher that I had to ask about it.  As it turns out, there are a bunch of shirts in the series, all of them using thousands of words from literary classics as background for the illustrations featured on the shirts.  The back of the shirt is solid text from the Hemingway classic.  From even a slight distance, it appears to be a gray t-hirt, but get a little closer and…boom!   You realize what you are looking at.  

Click here to reach the Litograph website where you can see the whole collection of shirts – and lots of other bookish things for sale.

I imagine that most of the shirts on offer will be best appreciated by women, but there are plenty of choices for guys, too.  Hemingway is well represented, for instance, and others, such as The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair) that men will feel comfortable wearing.

The Jungle


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The number of choices is actually a little bit overwhelming – and the company also sells posters, tattoos, and totes – so take a look and see if any of them appeal to you.  They are not cheap, but if you read how they are produced (via a process that means they will never fade) one by one, the price makes more sense.

Post #2,542

Tenacity – And Why Books Need a "Cliffhanger" Alert

Seldom has a book irritated me as much as J.S. Law’s debut novel Tenacity.  And that is saying a lot, because over a lifetime of reading, I have been exposed to some real stinkers.  So what makes Tenacity stand out?
Well, how about this?  The thriller is intended to introduce a character that will continue on in a whole series of books about her exploits as an investigator in Britain’s Special Investigation Branch’s “Kill” Team.  In layman terms, that means that she is a homicide detective who works on cases involving military personnel.  Nothing wrong with that and, in fact, that is a proposition just different enough to intrigue readers who might be a bit bored with the more usual crime fiction environments out there.
But Danielle “Dan” Lewis, God bless her heart, is a slow learner.  The book opens with a bit of Dan’s backstory, a story in which her stubbornness and failure to trust her team enough to have someone provide backup for her almost got her killed.  Only her physical agility and a whole lot of luck allowed her to survive a physical confrontation with the serial killer she and her team were trying to identify.  But did she learn anything from that escapade…you know, maybe about making sure a backup is in place next time she goes snooping in an isolated place?  Apparently not, because Tenacity ends (if you can call it an ending – more on that in a minute) just about where it begins: with Dan Lewis fighting for her life, alone, in a desperate situation in which she has no right to expect that she will survive. 
Law does a good job in developing the Dan Lewis character.  Despite my low opinion of her common sense and ability to recognize death traps, I think I understand the character and what makes her do such stupid things.  The author even managed to give a little depth to two of the book’s side-characters, a couple of men who try desperately to protect her from herself but are so frustrated with her that they have just about had it.
Submariner and Author J.S. Law
Much of Tenacitytakes place within the confines of a nuclear submarine in which Dan has inserted herself as the only female on board – with predictable results.  I enjoyed learning about  the day-to-day routines in that kind of environment and a little bit about what makes submariners tick.  They are a special breed, and Law, being one of them, knows what he is talking about and it all seems very real.  That is the real strength of Tenacity because the plot, although interesting, is not all that surprising.  But just when I was prepared to give the book a 3.5-star rating, I read the last few pages.  And exploded.
The book has no ending.  It just abruptly stops after setting up a cliffhanger that will presumably lead to Book Two of the Dan Lewis series.  No, no, no…that does not work.  I consider it less than honest to pull this stunt unless the publisher slaps a warning label on the book cover so that I can decide up front whether or not I want to invest five or six hours of my life in reading such a book.  This is the kind of literary misstep that, in my estimation, is worth at least a one-star deduction on any book.  Reader beware.

(Advance Reader’s Edition of the book provided by the publisher for review)

Post #2,541

Of Mice and Men

Hard as it might be to believe, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is part of the American Library Association’s “Most Challenged Books of the 21stCentury” list. Way too often, small-minded people manage to wrangle just enough political power to do harm to those wiser than themselves, as is the case with those who strive to keep Of Mice and Men out of public and school libraries.  They complain that the book is “anti-business” or that it condones euthanasia, or that it is filled with racial slurs and overtones.  God bless their little hearts.
The book was written in 1936 and it is very much a reflection of its author and his times, a period during which men were often driven to wandering the country, taking whatever work they could get to sustain themselves for another day.  Such was the case for George Milton and Lennie Small, two men who had known each other since childhood.  George has always looked out for his friend Lennie because the huge Lennie is too slow-witted to take care of himself.  George tells Lennie constantly how much easier his life would be without him having to worry about Lennie all the time but, truth be told, he would probably be lost without Lennie.
As the two approach the farm where they have found new work, George tells Lennie to keep his mouth closed, to let George do the talking until they have been accepted.  And even though Lennie “forgets” to do so, they manage to become part of the harvesting crew.  All goes well, and the crew bosses are especially impressed with Lennie’s strength and production, until Lennie starts to exhibit some of his peculiar ways.  Lennie is a giant who has no real conception of his own strength, and he is a man prone to panic – a lethal combination in a man Lennie’s size. 
Author John Steinbeck
Throw into the mix a previous misunderstanding between Lennie and a little girl that he and George are still running from, a batch of new puppies that Lennie too much loves to pet, and the boss’s pugnacious son and the son’s flirting wife, and you have all the makings of an inevitable tragedy.  And happen, it does.
Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men with a stage production of the story always in mind.  The book’s six chapters are grouped in pairs meant to be adaptable into a three-act play and, in fact, Of Mice and Men has enjoyed great success both on the stage and on the screen.

And there are still those out there who want to ban this wonderfully moving story.  Unbelievable. 

Post #2,540

On Having a Book Review Rejected by Amazon for Only God Knows What Reason

Amazon is a weird company.  Cut-throat and single-minded as any corporate villain out there, Amazon is not above gleefully driving its competitors out of business.  Too, the company continues to be criticized for its workplace conditions and overall attitude toward employees.  Many people have a love/hate relationship with the company that parallels the way most feel about Walmart. But despite all that, it has become the “go-to” place for people looking for user reviews of products they are considering for purchase.  Publishers, in particular, like to see their products reviewed on Amazon, and that’s why I always post my book reviews to Amazon.

Every so often, one of my reviews is rejected until I “clean it up.”  Amazon sends out a generic form letter via email when that happens and it’s up to the reviewer to figure out what the “problem” is.  I remember once having a review rejected because I used a “profane” word.  Turns out that, though the word was actually part of the book title, it was not going to be accepted in the body of the review.  After about five edits and rejections, I finally figured that out.  Stupid as HELL (that would probably be enough to get this post rejected if it were a book review), Amazon, but I suppose that’s what happens when some software program flags buzz-words for some human equally lacking in common sense to deal with.

Anyway, here’s the review that was rejected this morning:

The New Orleans police department has long had the reputation of being one of the most corrupt in the United States.  If it is notactually the most corrupt department in the country, in the minds of most observers it is certainly always in the running for that title.  And in the wake of what happened on the Danziger Bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005, the NOPD proved that in their case public perception was fact because, sadly enough, the NOPD turned out to be a clear extension of the overall political corruption and ineptness that describes the history of New Orleans city government.
Hurricane Katrina struck a city without a clue.  Both New Orlean’s mayor and its police chief failed the city terribly by not having a solid plan in place for the aftermath of the hurricane.  In fact, as Ronnie Greene points out in Shots on the Bridge, those providing emergency services to the citizens of New Orleans after the storm were left largely on their own.  And this seems particularly true of a police department that failed to set up even a central meeting place/control point from which to coordinate its efforts to control crime during what turned out to be perhaps the most chaotic period in the city’s history.
The Danziger Bridge, only seven-tenths of a mile long, allows access between two New Orleans neighborhoods separated by the city’s Industrial Canal.  And going from one neighborhood to another is all that each of the victims of the police slaughter were doing on the morning they were unfortunate enough to cross paths with a bunch of adrenalin-fueled cops who completely misread the situation on the bridge.  The policemen believed that they were responding to a scene where an unknown number of snipers had shot at least one of their own.  They were anxious to get to the bridge before more policemen could be killed or injured – and when they got there they exited their vehicles with guns blazing.
Before the gunfire ended (and it did not end even when all the victims were helpless and on the ground), six people, traveling in opposite directions in two distinct groups, had been shot.  Two of them were dead: a middle-aged mentally challenged man who was chased off the bridge and killed while trying to understand what was happening around him, and a seventeen-year-old boy whose body was chewed up by the number of wounds it sustained.  One woman, whose arm was literally shot off, saw her daughter shot in the stomach and her husband suffer severe shrapnel-related head wounds.  All the victims were black and none of them had a weapon of any type on them.  Some of the cops were white; some were black.
Then the cover-up began, and the NOPD lived up to its embarrassing reputation as being one of the most corrupt police departments anywhere.  Read Ronnie Greene’s Shots on the Bridge for the rest of this tragic story – especially the way it was so consistently mishandled in the court system.  We can only hope that someone in the city of New Orleans learned something from the mistakes made in this case – and is now in a position to help ensure that nothing like this ever again happens there.

I know it’s long and I don’t expect you to read it again, but I am struggling to figure out why the Amazon Gods are frowning on me this time around.  Am I too opinionated about the NOPD (a truly inept and despicable police force…see I can’t help myself, Amazon)?  I think the book backs up my opinion – and the rampant corruption of the NOPD is, in fact, the very subject of the book reviewed.

So…go to (insert profane word here), Amazon.  I don’t need the frustration.  But one word of advice, Dear Amazon hypocrites: Perhaps you should clean up all the fake reviews you let slip through the system…they are obvious to the rest of us even if your stupid software program doesn’t seem to get it.
——————————————————————————–This is the form letter received from Amazon:

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
We encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind:
Product Image
~Ronnie Greene
4.3 out of 5 stars (13)
  • Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback.
  • We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.
  • Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.
  • Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.
We welcome your honest opinion about products – positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions. If you have questions about the product or opinions that do not fit the review format, please feel free to use the Customer Discussions feature on the product page.

And this is part of what you get by clicking on their guidelines link:

What’s not allowed
Amazon is pleased to provide this forum for you to share your opinions on products. While we appreciate your time and comments, we limit customer participation to one review per product and reserve the right to remove reviews that include any of the following: 

Objectionable material:
• Obscene or distasteful content 
• Profanity or spiteful remarks 
• Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct 

Promotional content:
• Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively 
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product) 
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package 
• Solicitations for helpful votes 
• For more information on what we consider promotional content, please see our Frequently Asked Questions

Inappropriate content:
• Other people’s material (this includes excessive quoting) 
• Phone numbers, postal mailing addresses, and URLs external to Amazon.com 
• Videos with watermarks 
• Comments on other reviews visible on the page (because page visibility is subject to change without notice) 
• Foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product) 

Off-topic information:
• Feedback on the seller, your shipment experience or the packaging (you can do that at www.amazon.com/feedback and www.amazon.com/packaging
• Details about availability or alternative ordering and shipping information 
• Feedback about typos or inaccuracies in our catalog or product description (instead, use the feedback form at the bottom of the product page). 


Perhaps they consider the review to be “spiteful.”  Am I missing something?  If you see something in the review that you believe got me flagged, please do let me know because I’m obviously missing it.

Post #2,538

Literary School Lockers in Biloxi Excite Students About Reading

A couple of Biloxi (Mississippi) schoolteachers decided to do something special for the students who will be frequenting Biloxi Junior High’s eighth-grade hallway this school year.  The 189 lockers in that hallway, once described as “locker eyesores,” have been transformed into colorful book spines – and the students are loving the idea.

The new look in Biloxi Junior High School’s Eighth-Grade Hallway

According to ABC’s Good Morning America:

“We’ve gotten exactly the response we wanted,” Williams, who is also the ELA Department chairwoman, told ABC News. “Students who never thought about reading are now asking questions.”
Echoed Butera: “Students are bragging about the books they’ve read. All of a sudden it’s this badge of honor to be able to say they’ve read these books in the hallway.
“All they want to know is where are these books and how do I get my hands on them,” she said.

So some creativity on the part of two caring teachers added to a lot of elbow grease and a little help from friends, sponsors, and volunteers, and suddenly a group of kids is more excited about books than they ever have been in their lives.

That’s what I call a big win for everyone involved.  Thanks, ladies…and all who helped by painting lockers or picking up some of the costs incurred.  Great job by all.

(There are more great pictures on the ABC site I linked too up above.  The picture I’ve clipped here was provided to ABC by Elizabeth Williams, one of the two teachers who came up with this brilliant idea.)  The other teacher’s name, by the way, is Stacy Butera.

Post #2,537

Photo Tour of First Home of Tennessee Williams (Columbus, Mississippi)

I very much enjoyed my visit to the first home of Tennessee Williams while driving through Mississippi last month.  The home, located in Columbus, was actually the home of the child’s maternal grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dakin.  Reverend Dakin was an Episcopal priest and this house served as the church parsonage.  It has been restored and moved approximately three blocks to its current location where today it serves as both a Tennessee Williams museum and a welcome center.

The old parsonage as it looks today

This is a close-up of the historical marker outside the home.  Despite the sign’s implication that Williams was born in the home, the nice lady who showed me around the house told me that he was actually born in a local hospital near the home.  (So who knows?)

Historical Marker Detail

As I recall, very little of the furniture, if any at all, actually belonged to the parsonage when Williams was a brief resident, but it is all of the period and includes some beautiful pieces.  These are several of the rooms in the old house:

My guide was particularly proud of this piece and played a small snippet of a song on it to demonstrate what great condition it is still in.

Pump Organ

And, finally, this wreath is framed for display in one of the downstairs rooms.  It was displayed on top of Tennessee Williams’s coffin during his funeral ceremony.

Casket Wreath from Funeral of Tennessee Williams NYC 1983

Mississippi is filled with history on display, and much of it is of a literary nature.  So, my bookish friends, keep your eyes open as you cross the state on your way someplace else or back home.  There’s a lot to see in Mississippi if you slow down a little and get off those damned interstate highways long enough.

(Just click on any of the images for a larger view of them)

Post #2,536

Come and Take It

As every Texan (and much of the rest of the world) already knows, Texas history is filled with true tales involving the bigger-than-life characters who played such prominent roles in gaining the territory its independence from Mexico.  And in the minds of most, none loom larger than the Alamo heroes William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett.  They are the stuff of legends.  That none of these men is actually from Texas is irrelevant; Texans have claimed them as their own ever since they died in the fight that would eventually lead to Texas independence.
Pair these real life heroes with a good storyteller like Landon Wallace and you have the makings of an unusual, and intriguing, piece of historical fiction.  Part history, part alternative history, part romance novel, part thriller, Come and Take It focuses on the only male survivor of the slaughter at the Alamo, a young slave owned by Colonel Travis whom everyone knew simply as Joe.  Just suppose, Wallace says, that young Joe was carrying something so valuable when he escaped Santa Anna’s army that even today there are people willing to kill in order to get their hands on it.
And in 2013, starting with a direct descendent of Joe’s, they do kill.  
Joe Travis, a 93-year-old World War II hero who still lives alone despite his fragile health, outsmarts his killers, however, and takes his secret to the grave with him.  Now it is up to Joe’s grandson, a small-town Alabama football coach, to figure out what his grandfather has been hiding for so long and why he was murdered.
Dawn at the Alamo by Henry McArdle
Nat Travis, with some vital help from his former sister-in-law, who is a respected (and beautiful) history professor, slowly pieces together enough information to tell him that somewhere out there is a lost Alamo treasure that has slipped right through history’s cracks.  And he knows that the best way to avenge his grandfather’s murder is to find that treasure, whatever it is, before the killers can get their hands on it.  But where is it?  Still buried on the grounds of the Alamo shrine, hidden away in some obscure location…or long ago found and spent by some lucky scavenger who stumbled across it?
Landon Wallace, via flashbacks from the present to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, tells a plausible “what-if” story in Come and Take It that is both fun to read and a mini-lesson in real Texas history.  It delves, too, into the politics of modern day Alamo site management that might surprise some of Wallace’s readers.  And in the middle of all of this, Wallace manages to tightly merge side plots involving small town football and a somewhat unusual romance into his story.  It is the side plots that give Wallace room to develop his characters beyond the cardboard cutouts they could have been and, despite the fact that the bad guys are sometimes stereotypically bad and the good guys stereotypically good, he largely succeeds in doing that. 

Come and Take It is a fun read that Alamo/Texas history buffs are likely to enjoy.

Post #2,535

Anne Rice Is Furious and She Should Be (So Should You Be)

In recent months, author Anne Rice has been a vocal critic of what she considers to be an attempt to censor, entirely in the name of political correctness, what is being published.  Based on my own observations over the last year or two, I think what is happening is more of an attempt to keep certain books from having any success in the marketplace than it is an attempt to keep them from being produced.  But, of course, that really does amount to the same thing in the long run because, in a period like this one during which publishers seem willing to take on less and less risk all the time,  books about topics that don’t sell well are not likely ever to hit the shelves.  

Those of us who regularly submit book reviews to sites know how easy it would be to create multiple identities on those sites…identities we could then use to submit a dozen or so very negative or very positive reviews of the same title.  And if you take a look at Amazon, you will see bunches of books that have lots of five-star or one-star reviews that are about three sentences long and really don’t say a thing that makes much sense.  So there is no doubt that it happens.

In this Guardian interview, Rice has this to say:

“There are forces at work in the book world that want to control fiction writing in terms of who ‘has a right’ to write about what,” Rice said. “Some even advocate the out and out censorship of older works using words we now deem wholly unacceptable. Some are critical of novels involving rape. Some argue that white novelists have no right to write about people of colour; and Christians should not write novels involving Jews or topics involving Jews.”
“I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to someone else. We must stand up for fiction as a place where transgressive behaviour and ideas can be explored … internet campaigns to destroy authors accused of inappropriate subject matter or attitudes are dangerous to us all.”

I have, at times, felt that Ms. Rice was a little oversensitive about some of the online reviews she criticized.  But in this case, I have no doubt that she is onto something that is a real danger – and not just a danger to authors and publishers.  It is a danger to our very right to free speech.

The interview specifically addresses what is happening to a novel by Kate Breslin called  For Such a Time that:

imagines a relationship between a Jewish woman in a concentration camp and an SS Kommandant, and her eventual conversion to Christianity. Critics called it “deeply offensive and insensitive”, as well as “antisemitic, violent, and dangerous”, with the widespread online debate prompting the appearance of dozens of one-star reviews of the novel on Amazon.

I am willing to bet that very, very few of the bad reviews are coming from people who have actually read the novel.  Maybe none.

I never heard of the book or its author before today, so I certainly have not read For Such a Time.  And I’m not reviewing it in this piece; I am simply making readers aware of the abuse this author and novel appear to be suffering at the hands of literary bigots who have no interest in debating a point or a topic.  These people prefer to shut down completely those who do not walk the same political line they walk.  “Goons” is the nicest thing I can think to call them.

So please consider joining with me and defying the Goon Squads.  I plan to mention this book many times in many places, and I just might read it so that I can give it an honest review.  I am so damned sick of political correctness that I could spit…

Entire Interview Here

Post# 2,534

Time for Colorado’s Literary Litterbug To Pay the Price

I first took notice of the infamous Colorado book-dumper back in February of this year when several hundred books started appearing from what seemed to residents like out of nowhere on Colorado Highway 287.  Anyone dumb enough to dump a bunch of books out of his moving vehicle was bound to be caught in the act sooner than later, I figured, and sure enough, the genius was nabbed in April.  

Dumping Books on Colorado Hwy 287?  Cut It Out…

Colorado’s Infamous Highway 287 Book-Dumper Stopped in His Tracks

Now comes word from Colorado (via this note on NBC Channel 9‘s website) that it’s time for the literary litter bug to pay the price for his foolishness.

Glenn Pladsen pleaded guilty to three counts of littering Thursday, in exchange three other counts were dropped. He was immediately sentenced to 30 hours of community service. He also has to pay restitution and court costs and fees which total about $1,700.

Here’s hoping that those 30 hours of community service include some time dressed in an orange jumpsuit as he cleans litter from Colorado roadways.  (I have to admit that this little saga has kept me entertained more than it probably should have.)

Post #2,533

The Martian

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a science fiction novel for readers who take the “science” in science fiction seriously.  Weir, according to his author blurb, is a software engineer well versed in “subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned space flight,” and he puts it all to good use in this, his debut novel.  That’s the good news.
But now for the bad news: readers preferring a lighter dose of the science in science fiction are likely to find that for them The Martian is a tediously slow read.  The bulk of the novel’s action takes place on Mars, where astronaut Mark Watney must outsmart every surprise the red planet has in store for him if he is going to live long enough to be rescued when the next manned mission arrives there.   And since there is no one on Mars for Watney to interact with, the action (what there is of it) comes largely from the depths of the astronaut’s mind and the detailed diary that he is writing for the record.  That diary is largely filled by the introduction of one problem after another, followed by all of the math and science needed to find the solutions that will allow Watney to live another day.  That is well and good for the reader with an engineering background – or even for wannabe mechanical engineers – but it becomes a bit repetitive for the rest of us.
At least back in Houston, where much of the real rescue plan is being designed, Weir does not burden the reader with much of the math or science involved in the process, so things move along noticeably quicker in those portions of the story.  Unfortunately, those sections total only about a third of the book (estimate only), so as I got farther into The Martin, I found myself yearning to get back to Houston every time my reading stalled in the middle of one of those long diary sections.
Author Andy Weir
All that said, The Martian is an entertaining and enlightening story about the hazards of interplanetary exploration, a cautionary tale of sorts, but one that celebrates the problem solving expertise of those in charge of the program.  Mark Watney is a character whose self-deprecating wit and personality make him instantly likable, and there is never a moment in the book that the reader will not be rooting whole-heartedly for his rescue.  One or two of the other characters are relatively stereotypical, and the female character in charge of PR for NASA in Houston is borderline ludicrous in both nature and in behavior – and, more seriously, unbelievable.
Bottom Line:  Despite a false note here and there, and the overdose of math lessons, there is a lot to like about The Martian.  It is an inspirational story about what America’s space program could be again one day…if, by then, we have not already allowed the Russians and the Chinese to take ownership of outer space.

Post #2,532

Book Trailer of the Week: "The Martian" (movie version)

I plan to post my review of Andy Weir’s The Martian tomorrow but, because I just noticed this new clip from the movie version (to be released October 2), there will be two “Book Trailers of the Week” this week.  I’ve convinced myself that’s OK since these are the first two “book trailers” I’ve posted in several weeks.

The movie is starting to look as if it will be much more character-driven than the novel itself – and that is probably a good thing…but more on the book tomorrow.  For now, take a look at the clip.  I will add that, even though I’m not a huge fan of the novel, the movie clips I’ve seen from The Martian have just about convinced me that it is one I would enjoy.  Good job, trailers.

Post #2,531

Book Trailer of the Week: Movie Version of "Room" to Be Released This Fall

It really doesn’t seem like I read Emma Donoghue’s Room more than four years ago, but I see that I reviewed it way back on June 20, 2011.  As I said at the time, reading a whole novel written in the voice of a sheltered, young child was a fascinating experience.  I hope that the movie version captures that whole sense of innocence and awe…from this trailer, it looks as if it just might pull it off.  (It does appear, though that the child’s gender has been flipped for the movie.)

As I said in the review linked to above:

Unbeknownst to Jack, his mother has not seen the outside of Room for the seven years she has been Old Nick’s prisoner.   Without Jack, Ma would have no reason to go on living.  She has created an entire world for the boy inside this small space, a world in which she is the source of all knowledge, love, and support.  The outside world makes its way into Room only because Old Nick allows the pair a small television set, but Ma is the one who decides what Jack will watch and how what he sees will be interpreted for him.  Imagine a world in which Room is all that is real, and everything seen on television is make-believe.  That is the way Jack sees the world.

 I’m looking forward to this one…even knowing how it ends.  Heck, even the trailer gives that away.  Not sure how smart that was.

Post #2,530