Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Obit watch: February 22, 2017.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The Statesman is reporting the death of Gary Cartwright, one of the best of the Texas Monthly stable of writers and author of several true crime books.

I’d been reading Cartwright’s work for TM since…well, since my family first moved to Texas and started subscribing to Texas Monthly, and that was (mumble mumble) years ago.

I don’t see an actual tribute on their website yet, but I’m sure one is in progress and I’ll link it here. About 2 1/2 years ago, when Cartwright turned 80, they did run a tribute to him which contains links to other TM writers favorite stories. (Some of my favorites from that list: “Leroy’s Revenge”, which you should not read if you love dogs, but has a sort of gonzo feel to it. “Otis Crater was late for the fanciers’ organizational meeting at the Cherokee Lounge for good reason. He had just stabbed a U-Totem attendant following a discussion of the economic impact of a five-cent price increase on a six-pack of beer.” Also, his profiles of noted stripper Candy Barr and private investigator Jay J. Armes.)

I confess: I haven’t read Blood Will Tell yet: I probably should, but the main reason I haven’t is that I was reading Cartwright’s coverage of T. Cullen Davis in the magazine as it was happening. I have read, and endorse, Dirty Dealing, his book on the Judge John Wood killing and the Chagra family.

Even though I think TM has been going downhill recently (my mother dropped her subscription last year after (mumble mumble) years), I always found Cartwright’s work a high point in any issue. He can’t be replaced.

Edited to add: tribute by John Spong.

More detailed Statesman obit.

Edited to add 2/23: also from TM, “23 Writers and Editors Remember Gary Cartwright”.

Obit watch: February 13, 2017

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Al Jarreau. NYT. A/V Club.

Raymond Smullyan, author, mathematician, and logician.

With his long white hair and beard, Professor Smullyan resembled Ian McKellen’s wizard, Gandalf, from the “Lord of the Rings” film series. He was lanky, hated exercise and loved steak and eggs. He studied Eastern religion. He told corny jokes and performed close-up magic to anyone near him. He played the piano with passion and talent into his 90s. (A career in music had been derailed by tendinitis when he was a young man.)

Obit watch: February 8, 2017.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Professor Irwin Corey, “the world’s foremost authority”, has passed away. He was 102.

One of Mr. Corey’s best-remembered routines was staged not in a club or broadcast studio but at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan, at the National Book Awards ceremony in 1974. That year the fiction prize was shared by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Thomas Pynchon. No one in the crowd had any idea what the reclusive Mr. Pynchon looked like, and when Mr. Corey arrived to accept the award for him (the novelist had approved the stunt), many people thought they were getting their first look at Mr. Pynchon.

For the record, Richard Hatch: NYT. A/V Club.

Obit watch: January 30, 2017.

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I didn’t become aware of this until I saw it on the NYT obits Twitter feed, but: J.S.G. Boggs, one of my favorite visual artists, has died.

..he painstakingly reproduced British pounds, Swiss francs and American dollars, with quirky deviations.
On American currency, for example, he might use the signature “J. S. G. Boggs, Secret of the Treasury,” or inscribe “Kunstbank of Bohemia” on a $5,000 bill, or append the motto “In Fun We Trust.” At first he created the notes one by one, a time-consuming process. Later he ran off limited-edition prints.

In the mid-1990s, when Worth magazine asked him to design a note using the Treasury Department’s new guidelines, Mr. Boggs produced a $100 bill with the image of Harriet Tubman as a young girl, anticipating by 20 years the announcement that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson as the new face of the $20 bill. In 2001, he ran off a series of 100,000 plastic Sacagawea dollars, stamped with his own mint marks and paid for with a $5,000 Boggs bill.

A very quick Google search does not turn up any indication of how much the Boggs dollars are currently going for. Which is a shame: I’ve always figured I’d buy a Boggs artwork when I got filthy rich.

(On a side note: Canadian Tire money is available for surprisingly reasonable prices on eBay.)

The obit mentions Lawrence Weschler’s Boggs: A Comedy of Values, which I think is a fine (though dated) book. But I’d also put in a plug for Weschler’s Shapinsky’s Karma, Bogg’s Bills: And Other True-Life Tales, the essay collection that was my first introduction to Boggs.

Speaking to ARTnews after Mr. Boggs’s death, Mr. Weschler said, “He was just short of being a con man, but no more than anyone in the art world, or for that matter in the world of finance — which, of course, was his whole point.”

Books in brief.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I’ve ranted to some of my friends about Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me and I should probably post a longer review here. (Short version: now I know why there aren’t more books following an author during their writing process.)

But you know how it is. Mom likes Jack Reacher, and I kind of do as well, so when I found a copy of Night School at Half-Price I grabbed it.

And I think it’s actually a pretty okay book. It still has some of the things that have started to grate on me (Reacher makes women’s clothes fall off: Reacher takes on seven guys at once), but the annoyances are modulated by a couple of factors:

  • This is a “historical” Reacher rather than a “contemporary” Reacher. Night School Reacher is still in the Army, and the book is set sometime between 1993 and 1999.
  • Frances Neagley from Without Fail and Bad Luck and Trouble is a major character (introduced early on, and cleverly, so I don’t think this is a spoiler). I like Neagley, and not just because Reacher doesn’t make her clothes fall off; she’s smart, at least as smart as Reacher and possibly smarter, and there are hints of an interesting backstory. I’d read an entire “Adventures of Frances Neagley, PI” novel if Child ever decided to write one.

There’s an interesting MacGuffin (who is “the American” and what is he selling for $100 million?), some clever procedural work, and a satisfying level of ass-kicking (seven against Reacher aside). Night School isn’t a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I don’t have a Single Action Army (yet) but I grabbed a copy of Shooting Colt Single Actions in All Styles, Calibers, & Generations from Half-Price right after Christmas (it was 20% off, so I picked it up for relatively short money). It seems like HPB got in a fair amount of relatively obscure gun books from someone or somewhere. (I also got a copy of Compliments of Col. Ruger in the same purchase.)

Venturino’s book, while about 20 years out of date, is still informative. I don’t know that much has changed in the world of Colt Single Actions since 1995. (Except for prices, and I suspect some of his listed vendors have closed up shop.) The most interesting thing about my copy of the book, though? When I’m reading it, I can just faintly smell Hoppe’s #9 or some other form of gun cleaner/lubricant coming off the pages. Someone must really have loved this book, and their guns.

(It isn’t an annoying smell, at least to me. I own a few books that used to belong to smokers; as any serious book collector will tell you, that’s annoying.)

One of my Christmas presents from my beloved and indulgent sister was Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life, a book I was previously unaware of (but which was a NYT bestseller). I’ll confess that I was initially a little bit skeptical about Spy Secrets, mostly because the author set off my “reality show contestant” radar. (He apparently appeared on “Shark Tank” and got a deal.)

My reality show skepticism was offset early on when Jason Hanson came out and said: he’s a gun guy, who has a permit, carries everywhere he legally can, and hangs out in gun shops. But Spy Secrets isn’t a gun book, nor is it a text on mastering covert tradecraft. Hanson’s emphasis is on protecting yourself through:

  • awareness – paying attention and knowing how to spot possible trouble.
  • avoidance – staying out of trouble and, if you stumble into it, not making it worse
  • preparedness – if you do get in trouble, what do you have and what do you know that can get you out, or at least keep you alive until the cavalry gets there?

I’m probably not the best person to evaluate this book – I’d love to see a take from Weaponsman or Karl – but Hanson impresses me as sane and practical. I do have one small quibble with his advice, but beyond that I feel comfortable recommending Spy Secrets. And if you have a high school or college freshman around, I think you could do a pretty good deed if you bought them a copy of this book, a nice tactical pen, and a good quality pocket-sized flashlight.

(My one quibble? I disagree with Hanson about the value of smartphones and text messaging. I agree with him that smartphones detract from situational awareness: I’m conscious of that in my own life and need to work on it. But it is also a well known fact that, in emergency situations where the cell network is overloaded, text messages have a much better chance of going through than phone calls. If you’ve got someone to watch your six, or can dictate a text to Siri, texting “Meet me at the meeting place” may be the smart way to go.)

Obit watch: January 15, 2017.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

Tommy Allsup, guitarist, producer, and historical footnote.

As a guitarist, he was touring as a part of Buddy Holly’s band in February of 1959. This is the same tour that Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson were on…

Mr. Allsup flipped a coin to see whether he or Valens would get a seat on the plane. He lost and took a bus to the next stop on the tour.
Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside. Their deaths were recalled as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie.”

For the record: William Peter “The Exorcist” Blatty. NYT. WP.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I hate to see nearly 150 years of history flushed down the drain, and I’m sad for the circus population that’s going to lose their jobs (and possibly, for some of them, homes). I’m also sad that this decision appears to have some roots in the organized campaigns by various “animal welfare” organizations. (Remember, when you see those sad animals on TV and Sarah McLachlan in the backgrond: that money’s going to pay Ringling’s legal fees.)

On the other hand…the last time I went to a Ringling Circus was over 30 years ago, before my first attempt at college. And what I remember most about it from that time was that I found it kind of sad and depressing. It isn’t that I’m some sort of crypto-animal-rights activist; it just felt like there was something sad and wrong about the whole thing. I guess I’m sad for the people, and sad for the lost history, but I’m not so sad for the institution itself. (And as the article notes, Feld Entertainment has a bunch of other stuff going on, much of which appears to contain the phrase “…On Ice!” so they’ll probably do okay for a while longer.)

Obit watch: January 9, 2017.

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Nat Hentoff has passed away at the age of 91. NYT. Reason. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. I can’t link to them directly, but Popehat has been retweeting a lot of very good tributes to Mr. Hentoff.

hentoff

Mr. Hentoff was a personal hero of mine (who I never met). Stipulated: he was a liberal, and we probably would have disagreed on many of the social issues of the day. But there was one thing we agreed on: freedom of speech. Mr. Hentoff was an absolutist. He didn’t care if you were left, right, a student, or even a Nazi. If someone was trying to stop you from speaking, he was against it. He wrote eloquently and well for many years for the Village Voice in opposition to censors and censorship. He didn’t just limit himself to government action, though there was plenty of fertile ground there. He also spoke out against private censors. I particularly remember his condemnations of CBS for suspending Andy Rooney

(I don’t know how long he’d been ill, but I wonder what, if anything, he would have said about Milo Yiannopoulos and Simon & Schuster.)

One of the things I respected about him was his intellectual consistency. That didn’t just apply to freedom of speech. He was opposed to the death penalty. But he was also opposed to abortion (he was the only anti-abortion voice in the Voice, and he wasn’t shy about expressing his views) and euthanasia. I like the way Wikipedia summarizes his view:

Hentoff argued that a consistent life ethic should be the viewpoint of a genuine civil libertarian, arguing that all human rights are at risk when the rights of any one group of people are diminished, that human rights are interconnected, and people deny others’ human rights at their own peril.

When I was a young lad in middle school and high school, Hentoff’s books on free speech were in the school library, and my high school had a subscription to the Voice. Nat Hentoff shaped my views on freedom of speech, and inspired me (in my own small way) to be a first amendment advocate and activist.

I’m reminded of that quote from Melville Davisson Post that I often use: “He stood up as though he stood alone, with no glance about him to see what other men would do…No one of them believed in what the other taught; but they all believed in justice, and when the line was drawn, there was but one side for them all.” That was Nat Hentoff.

(He also was a pretty prominent writer on jazz, though I was born without the jazz appreciation gene and am not as well read in his jazz writings.)

91 is a good run, but the world is still a lesser place today.

Obit roundup: December 28, 2016.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Carrie Fisher: NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

You know, I’d totally forgotten this one:

NYT obit for Vera Rubin.

NYT obit for Richard Adams.

Obit watches, firings, ocelots, and other stuff: December 27, 2016.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

I think I’m going to wait until tomorrow to try to pull together the Carrie Fisher obits. Not that it was entirely unexpected (though I think we were all hoping for the best for her), but I feel better letting things sit for a day.

By way of Lawrence: Richard “Watership Down” Adams. A couple of pithy quotes:

The book, and a subsequent animated film in 1978, became synonymous with rabbits and at least one enterprising butcher advertised: “You’ve read the book, you’ve seen the film, now eat the cast.”

“If I saw a rabbit in my garden I’d shoot it,” he once said.

By way of my beloved sister-in-law: Vera Rubin, noted female astronomer.

Rubin’s uncovering of evidence for dark matter revealed that “there’s much more out there than we would expect based on our common-sense experience,” said James Bullock, professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine. “Today, the standard interpretation is that 80% of matter is in this form that’s different than anything that is known to science. And without this dark matter, a lot of other things about the universe don’t make sense: Galaxies themselves wouldn’t exist; stars wouldn’t exist, and we would not exist.”

Rex and Rob Ryan both OUT in Buffalo.

The Bills went 1-7 this season against teams with a record better than .500, with the one victory coming against the New England Patriots, who were without suspended quarterback Tom Brady and started rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett.

He’s still due $16.5 million after compiling a 15-16 record as Bills coach, a .483 winning percentage that is actually the best of the seven head coaches (including Perry Fewell on an interim basis) who have followed Wade Phillips since the 2000 season.

Babou (either one), call your office, please.

…biologists working in Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge near Harlingen found the first known ocelot den in two decades.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the cheetah is “rapidly heading towards extinction”. While sad, this comes as no great shock to us…because, as we all know, cheetahs never win.

This is kind of cool, at least to me: a homebrew short-range transmitter that sends out time signals on the WWVB 60 KHz frequency. Why would you want to do this, other than for the challenge?

Unfortunately, I can’t get my wristwatch to receive the 60 kHz amplitude-modulated time signal in my dorm room in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cahiers du cinéma: The Library of Congress recommends…

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Huh. I guess it is that time of year again.

Quick takes:

  • I think “Rushmore” is okay: I like the “plays” within the movie much more than I like much of the movie. Not one I would have chosen, personally.
  • “The Decline of Western Civilization”? That’s a bit of a surprise, but not one I’d necessarily dispute: I hear it’s actually a pretty good documentary about the LA punk scene, but have not seen it. (It wasn’t even available on home video until recently.) Will we get “Part 2: The Metal Years” next year?
  • I will admit to never having seen “The Atomic Cafe”, but how does a bunch of cut together clips from other sources make this list?
  • Evan Hunter represent!
  • Ditto “Richard Stark”! Seriously, both “Blackboard Jungle” and “Point Blank” are interesting choices. (Haven’t seen either one, but I love the Parker novels and McBain’s work. Need to fix that.)
  • Perhaps I am incapable of experiencing joy, but my memory tells me “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was fun when I saw it, but not a timeless classic. Maybe it belongs on this list, but for technical achievement.
  • I love Hitchcock, but I’m not a huge fan of “The Birds”. It just seems kind of silly to me.

Edited to add: nothing to do with the LoC list, but I wonder: was one of the Simpsons writers a closet 87th Precinct fan?

More weird intersections.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

This is kind of a weird three-fer. Sort of one of those triangle intersections.

A woman bought “$23,000” worth of “Hatchimals” which I am given to understand is this year’s hot Christmas toy. (Personally, they sound stupid to me, but I am not a small child.)

…purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151— spending more than $23,000 — with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price.

Interestingly, eBay has apparently imposed limits on “Hatchimals” sales.

“I have a fortune invested, only one venue to offload them, and in only three weeks they will magically transform into useless pumpkins that will take up space in my office FOREVER, and have caused my financial ruin,” [she] wrote. “Oh, and I’ll still owe the lawyers.”

…she paid $23,595.31 to buy 156 of the toys before realizing she wouldn’t be allowed to resell them on EBay. The site only lets users post three Hatchimals auctions per week.

So why is some random woman’s attempt to profit on the backs of hard-working parents who just want to get their children a toy for Christmas interesting?

Intersection number 1: the random woman is author Sara “Water for Elephants” Gruen.

This raises questions: namely, why would Ms. Gruen, who is surely rolling in all that sweet Oprah’s Book Club and movie money, embark on this quest to profit on the backs yadda yadda? And why wouldn’t she have checked eBay polices before spending $23,000?

I don’t have an answer for the second question. As for the first, that’s intersection number 2:

On her Shopify site, Gruen wrote that the mission of her store is “to get justice for a wrongfully convicted man who was sentenced to LWOP(Life Without Parole) 23 years ago, and who has been incarcerated since.”

More:

Gruen has declined to offer any details about the man she says she’s trying to help by selling the toys. She told the Philly Voice she’s working on documentary series about the case, and that his identity will be revealed soon.

Curious. I might watch that series, if shows up anyplace I have access to, mostly because I wonder how she got involved in this case.

Edited to add: Got to remember. Always, always do the math.

She’s selling the toys, which come with an autographed copy of one of her five books, for $189 each. Batteries — for the Hatchimal — are included.

$189 times 156 is $29,484. Subtract the $23,595.31 she paid, and that leaves a gross profit of $5888.69. And that’s before the cost of the batteries, whatever she’s paying for the copies of her books (unless she just has 156 copies lying around the house), and assuming she sells all of them. (The article says she’s given four away to “needy kids”, which reduces her gross that much more.)

Doesn’t $5,000 seem like a relatively paltry amount to fund a documentary? Heck, couldn’t she have raised that on Kickstarter without the whole exploiting parents yadda yadda angle?

Obit watch: November 26, 2016.

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Scum sucking dictator Fidel Castro is burning in Hell.

NYT. WP.

Cuban geopolitics is a little outside of my area of specialization (though I did stick a toe in those waters when I was taking “Modern Revolutions” with Dr. Sanchez back in the St. Edwards days). If I see any smart takes while I’m out and about I’ll try to link them here.

Edited to add: Various takes: Tam. Lawrence. Amy Alkon.

Edited to add 2: by way of a retweet from Popehat on the Twitter, the Miami Herald obit.

While I’m thinking about it, can I put in a plug for Stephen Hunter’s Havana? Not that it’s completely historical or anything, but I did think it was a fun book. (And Castro is a pivotal character in it.)