Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Obit watch: June 29, 2016.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

So Cormac McCarthy isn’t dead.

However, Alvin “Future Shock” Toffler is.

“No serious futurist deals in ‘predictions,’” he wrote in the book’s introduction. “These are left for television oracles and newspaper astrologers.”
He advised readers to “concern themselves more and more with general theme, rather than detail.” That theme, he emphasized, was that “the rate of change has implications quite apart from, and sometimes more important than, the directions of change.”

(I’ve never actually read Future Shock. When it was first published, I was distracted by other things, like my binky: when I reached the age where I might have been able to appreciate it, it seemed…quaint. Perhaps I should fix this.)

I find this obit for Phil Parker oddly touching. Son of a Baptist preacher, drank for the first time in grad school at Harvard, ended up an alcoholic living on the streets of the Bowery, finally went to AA and got sober…

In 1974, just a few years after he stopped drinking, Mr. Parker founded a supported work program that over the next several decades would help countless other homeless alcoholics. And as the derelict population became disproportionately young and black, Mr. Parker, who was black, became a social worker himself, supervising the program at the city’s East Third Street Men’s Shelter just off the Bowery.

He stayed sober for 48 years. Cancer got him in the end.

Obit watch: June 25, 2016.

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

Michael Herr, author of Dispatches. This is supposed to be one of the great Vietnam War books: I personally haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Things I did not know:

He contributed the narration to “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola’s epic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” and with the director Stanley Kubrick and Gustav Hasford wrote the screenplay for “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), adapted from Mr. Hasford’s novel (“The Short-Timers”).

Bernie Worrell, legendary keyboard player.

His stint in the 1970s as keyboardist and music director in groups led by George Clinton — Parliament, Funkadelic and their eventual merged identity of Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk — taught generations of musicians and listeners that synthetic sounds could be earthy and untamed.

Later on, of course, he played with the Talking Heads. I think this clip has some good shots of Mr. Worrell in action with the Heads:

He played, and played with, whatever technology was available to him at the time: piano, electric piano, clavinet, Hammond organ, as well as Moog, ARP, Yamaha and Prophet synthesizers. What he brought to every piece of technology was a human element: quirks and syncopations, complex structures and outbursts of anarchy. His oft-repeated advice to young musicians was “hands on” — to keep the human touch in music rather than depending on machines.

A/V Club.

Random notes: June 24, 2016.

Friday, June 24th, 2016

The Baltimore Sun recalls a time when terrapin was “the signature delicacy of Maryland cuisine”.

(Linked here because: my favorite chapter in The Old Man and the Boy is towards the end, where the Old Man takes The Boy up to his friend’s in Maryland. They stop off along the way and have a proper meal of canvasback duck, terrapin stew, and various kinds of “iced tea” – this being at the height of Prohibition. So, yeah, I have a vague desire to try terrapin stew sometime.)

I intended to link this earlier in the week, but forgot until the On Taking Pictures podcast reminded me: 20×24 Studio is closing down “by the end of next year”.

The significance of this is that 20×24 is the home of the largest Polaroid camera ever made:

The camera, the 20-inch-by-24-inch Polaroid, was born as a kind of industrial stunt. Five of the wooden behemoths, weighing more than 200 pounds each and sitting atop a quartet of gurney wheels, were made in the late 1970s at the request of Edwin H. Land, the company’s founder, to demonstrate the quality of his large-format film. But the cameras found their true home in the art world, taken up by painters like Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg and photographers like William Wegman, David Levinthal and Mary Ellen Mark to make instant images that had the size and presence of sculpture.

But Polaroid no longer produces instant film: the company bought “hundreds of cases” of the 20×24 film, and hoped to reverse engineer it:

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and I understand the importance of the history maybe better than anyone else,” said Mr. Reuter, who is also a photographer and filmmaker. “But there is a time when things have to come to an end. These are not materials that were designed to last indefinitely, and the investment to keep making them would be huge, multimillions.”

20×24 Studio.

Pavel Dmitrichenko is hoping to rebuild his ballet career, after being out of the dance scene for about two and a half years.

Why was he out? Injury? No, actually, he was in prison.

And why was he in prison? He was convicted of plotting the acid attack against Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin.

Mr. Dmitrichenko now labels the whole affair pure fiction. It was all a plot, he said, by Mr. Filin and his allies in the Bolshoi to remove him from the scene because he was vocal about their corrupt practices and would not be intimidated.
The revisions spill out in dizzying, not to say implausible, succession: He never spoke to Mr. Zarutsky about Mr. Filin. He denied that he admitted as much in court. Ms. Vorontsova was not his girlfriend. He even raises doubts that there was any acid attack since Mr. Filin has little noticeable scaring and can drive, despite the seeming lack of an iris in one eye that he keeps hidden behind sunglasses.

Obit watch: June 23, 2016.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

David Thatcher has passed away at the age of 94.

Mr. Thatcher was the tail gunner in the “Ruptured Duck”, one of the 16 B-25s in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan.

After the raid, the Duck crash-landed and several of the crew were injured. Mr. Thatcher tended their injuries.

Corporal Thatcher, the only crew member able to walk, joined with Chinese peasants and armed guerrillas to take the four injured airmen on a grueling five-day trek, by land and boat, to a hospital on the mainland, carrying them on stretchers and sedan chairs and managing to evade Japanese troops.

All of the crew evaded capture and eventually made it home, though the pilot (Ted Lawson, who also wrote Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a book I remember reading when I was very young) lost a leg.

As cited in James M. Scott’s book “Target Tokyo” (2015), Colonel Doolittle told Corporal Thatcher’s parents that “all the plane’s crew were saved from either capture or death as a result of his initiative and courage in assuming responsibility and in tending the wounded himself day and night.”
Corporal Thatcher was awarded the Silver Star for valor.

Mr. Thatcher’s death leaves one surviving crew member from the raid, Richard Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot.

Obit watch: June 19, 2016.

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Anton Yelchin, Chekov in the new Star Trek movies. LAT. A/V Club. He was only 27.

Lois Duncan. YA author, perhaps most famous for I Know What You Did Last Summer. A/V Club.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the reasons I like linking to A/V Club obits is that they’re very good at putting people’s lives in context – explaining who this person was, and why they mattered – without snark or meanness. They’re also quicker and better about acknowledging popular culture figures than, say, the NYT.

This obit for Ron Lester is a good example of what I’m talking about. Mr. Lester was Billy Bob in “Varsity Blues” and had roles on “Freaks and Geeks” and “Popular”.

…for a time, he became the go-to actor for casting directors looking to cast large, funny young men.

But his weight was killing him, so he had gastric bypass surgery. The problem was, after he lost a whole bunch of weight, he was no longer distinctive as a large funny guy, and was just one of many interchangeable normal sized funny guys in Hollywood.

The A/V Club links to this Grantland profile of Mr. Lester from 2014, which I commend to your attention. Mr. Lester was 45.

Followups.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Lawrence’s backlink for my DNA lab post reminded me that I intended to link to this Grits For Breakfast post on the same subject.

More on MP Jo Cox: NYT. The Guardian (current live blog, historical live blog). Express.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr. Mair sent about $620 to the National Alliance for items from its publishing imprint, National Vanguard Books, including works that instructed readers on the chemistry of powder and explosives. Also purchased was a copy of “Ich Kampfe,” a book published by the Nazi Party in the early 1940s.
Heidi Beirich, the director of the center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks and produces reports on extremist groups, said in an interview that it had found the invoices in a database of records it maintains.
When Mr. Mair’s name surfaced on Thursday, Ms. Beirich said, the Intelligence Project matched it with invoices in its possession. She said those records were authentic because they had been leaked by members of the National Alliance. Further, she said, she was confident the records were linked to Mr. Mair because the address on the invoices matched his home address.

You know, I dislike Nazis as much as the next guy or gal, but: does this bother anyone else? The SLPC apparently has a database of people’s book orders that was “leaked” to them? And they, in turn, are providing those records to the press?

Setting aside our individual lack of love for the Nazis, isn’t it possible that there are people on that list – students of modern day extremism, university libraries with collections of extremist literature for reference purposes, etc. – that would object to having their purchases revealed to unrelated third parties?

And where does this stop? Anyone remember the Tattered Cover case?

Things I did not know until now.

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Robert “Simply Irresistible” Palmer’s favorite author was Jack Vance, at least if Wikipedia is to be believed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I just have a little bit of trouble reconciling a fondness for Jack Vance with Mister “Addicted to Love”. But people are a funny old lot; they’ll surprise you sometimes…

Obit watch: May 15, 2016.

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Katherine Dunn followups: A/V Club. NYT.

Harlan Ellison, the science fiction author and screenwriter, hailed it as “transformative.”

Julius La Rosa, who was a noted singer of the 1950s, but is perhaps most famous for being fired on the air by Arthur Godfrey.

On Oct. 19, 1953 — 23 months after Mr. La Rosa’s debut — Mr. Godfrey retaliated in a morning segment heard only on the radio. Mr. La Rosa had just finished singing “Manhattan” when Mr. Godfrey delivered the sentence in his solemn foghorn voice.
“That was Julie’s swan song,” he said.

The dismissal stunned Mr. La Rosa and the Godfrey audiences, whose reaction was largely negative. Most media critics also chastised Mr. Godfrey, whose avuncular image began to crumble.

Obit watch: May 13, 2016.

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Katherine Dunn, noted author (Geek Love) and boxing aficionado.

One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing sounds like a book I might be interested in. (Short shameful confession: I haven’t read Geek Love.)

Hattip: Lawrence, who also brings us a vital safety tip.

Quote of the day.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Have you noticed that in military history no regular army has ever been able to deal with a properly organized guerrilla force? If we use the regular army in Algeria, it can only end in failure. I’d like France to have two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned with their general’s bowel movements or their colonel’s piles: an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.

The Centurions, Jean Lartéguy

Many years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a teenage boy, Soldier of Fortune magazine sold merchandise, including posters.

There were two that I kind of wanted: one was a poster of the classic Thompson submachine gun ad. I’m still looking for that, if anyone has any leads…

The other was a variant of Lartéguy’s quote above. I was struck at the time by his distinction between the two armies, and yes, that’s the army in which I should like to fight as well.

Now I’m actually reading the book that quote came from, and I’m growing quite fond of Raspéguy and his band of merry men. I’ve just reached the end of book two, where the colonel gets the band back together: he assembles his fellow POWs from the Indochina war and tells them:

I’ve just been given command of the 10th Colonial Parachute Regiment, the most useless bunch of s.o.b.s in the whole French army, the rejects from every other paratroop unit.

I know this is going to end badly for everyone: we’re talking about French Algeria, after all. But I expect the rest of this ride is going to be fun.

This is intended to enrage you. (#7 in a series)

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Okay, the title may be somewhat of an exaggeration. I’m guessing the only people enraged by this will be:

But I’m willing to be proven wrong. Feel free to do so in comments.

Anyway. A long time ago – 1987, to be precise – a group of John D. MacDonald fans put up a plaque at what was Slip F602 at the Bahia Mar Marina. Slip 602 was also renamed Slip F18.

What was the significance of this? MacDonald’s most famous creation, Travis McGee, docked his houseboat, the “Busted Flush”, at Slip F18. I know it probably sounds kind of silly and trivial to a lot of you, but it always seemed to me to be a nice gesture in honor of a man who has influenced more writers than you could fit into a 1936 Rolls-Royce pickup truck. (Just a few names you may have heard of: Michael Connolly, Randy Wayne White, Lee Child, Carl Hiaasen, David Morrell, and some guy named Stephen King.)

But I ramble. My point now is: the plaque isn’t there any longer. It has been moved to the harbormaster’s office. I can’t really get a sense of how easy or hard it is to find from the photos online. But more to the point:

The relegation seems particularly poignant in 2016, McDonald’s centennial birthday year. Sarasota, where MacDonald lived, will be staging a big celebration in July. But there’s nothing going on in Fort Lauderdale.
“I had tried to contact the Bahia Mar offices to see if anything would be done to celebrate the 100th Birthday of JDM but I received no answer,” Calvin Branche told me via email. Branche, who runs the John D. MacDonald website and will be staging slideshow presentations in Sarasota this summer, suggested that the marina place the plaque somewhere more conspicuous. “But nothing came of it.”

It just seems kind of a lousy way to treat a good man and a great author.

(Hattip: Lawrence, via email.)

Obit watch: April 8, 2016.

Friday, April 8th, 2016

E.M. Nathanson.

Nathanson was perhaps most famous as the author of The Dirty Dozen, based on a story told to him by Russ Meyer (!) and adapted into a movie that I’ve never actually seen. I wonder if Lawrence has a copy…