Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

I have been experiencing box envy lately.  Now that Christmas has come and gone, my condition has eased considerably as I now have some box sets of my own.

The first is both simple and something very special:
I have never properly read any Sherlock Holmes.  I've read about him and sorted of skimmed him but have never owned any of Arthur Conan Doyle's books.  Its hard to be knowledgeable about crime fiction without ever having read these books.  So this is a special treat for me.  Two nice, thick paperbacks and one nice card board box for them to live in.

My second box set is a three volume edition of the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolano's book 2666.
Just as a dead Swede has been the sensation of the crime fiction world the past few years, this dead Chilean is the star of the world of literary fiction now that all of his books have finally appeared in English.  I've read a lot about him but this will be my first stab at reading one of his books (though he has had some stories published in New Yorker magazine the past few years). 

Our friend Docx made a lame attempt to get us to stop reading crap and start reading serious literary fiction several weeks ago.  His approach was all wrong.  One of my favorite critics, John Powers, gave an impassioned plea for why we should read great books like 2666 - for what they can offer - a few years ago that was much more powerful and effective than Docx's attempt to tell us that what we are reading is inherently flawed. (Instead of reading the Powers piece, click on the link to listen to it - it was written for radio.)  I've been thinking about Powers' review of 2666 since I heard it and now I can finally see for myself if he's right.
Other good Bolano links: and

My third box of the season is certainly the strangest, and, I hope, the most valuable.  A long time ago I became a lifetime subscriber to McSweeney's.  Issue number 36 just came in the mail - in the form of a head shaped like a box.
(Note: Not my photo - actually, none of these are.)
My last and greatest box is this:
A collection of 100 famous Penguin covers as post cards.  In a box.  I also got Phil Baines's Penguin By Design, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great Westlake Essay

Jettisoning the Literary Straitjacket

A great essay on Donald Westlake and his recently published lost novel Memory. Saw this on Sarah Weinman's Tumblr feed and not on her blog. Must watch Tumblr and Twitter more closely in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bruegel and Stark and Frayn and Westlake

I recently finished reading Richard Stark's eighth Parker novel, The Handle.  I enjoyed it immensely, as I have all of the other Parker novels.  The Handle is about a job to knock off and knock out a casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.  (Had the casino survived Parker, BP will soon finish the job.)[Note: I started this post in May 2010 when oil was still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.]

The name of the island is Cockaigne.  Karns, the head of the Outfit and the man commissioning the job, gives us the background on the name:

‘One of my lawyers told me what it is,’ Karns said. ‘There was an old legend in the old days in England about a country called Cockaigne where everything was great. Streets made of sugar, doughnuts growing on the trees and like that. Like the song about the big rock candy mountain. Idleness and luxury, that was Cockaigne, and that was what this bird Baron called his gambling island.’

And this rang a bell with me.  Just as Stark used the story of the Missing Mourners of Dijon in The Mourner, I wondered if he got the idea for The Handle from the world of fine arts - because there's a painting of it by one of my favorite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, called "The Land of Cockaigne."
The place that Breugel paints is a lot like the island.  For more on the background on this painting, see

In Tuesday's New York Times, I read about the discovery of a new painting by Bruegel and this reminded me that I never finished this post.   An old painting has been found to be from the master himself and not one of his sons.  Michael Kimmelmen has a nice write up about it called When Overlooked Art Turns Celebrity.

Here's the painting:
It was painted shortly after the Cockaigne picture and it of a similar them - a crowd drinking wine and passing out.

Bruegel the Elder is one of my favorite artists and my interested in him originated in reading Michael Frayn's great comic novel Headlong, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.  In it a man notices a painting hanging in a decaying country house that he suspects is a lost painting by Bruegel.  He schemes to get it and things end badly.  Imagine one of Westlake's Dortmunder novels written in a way Docx would approve and you have Headlong.  This book is a real work of art and one of my favorite novels ever.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Charity Cases

Day 1
A charity book sale just opened near work.  Its a temporary thing, set up in a small, abandoned space and it doesn't seem to have much good stuff - Docx's nightmare is what it is.

I collect books connected to the New Yorker magazine.  Have a big bookcase full of  them.  Hidden in a box under a table of books on current affairs at this book sale, I found a copy of The World of John McNulty by John McNulty with an introduction by James Thurber.  McNulty wrote for the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1956.  This is a collection of most of his pieces for the magazine.  I had never heard of him before and this first edition hardcover from 1957 with its dust jacket in perfect shape (I don't think anyone read it back in '57) was only four bucks so I grabbed it.  (I can't find any photos of the book online.  Also, I can't find the cable to connect the camera to the computer.)

I want to do some research on McNulty but it will have to wait until after the holidays.  Our x-mas tree blocks access to the bookcase with all of my New Yorker books.  McNulty seems to have written pieces about life in New York city - stories about cab drivers, bar tenders, gamblers - colorful characters, mainly.  From skimming the book, it seems to me that the reason no one remembers much about him is that Joseph Mitchell covered much of the same territory and did so with much greater skill. To be fair, Mitchell used the English language better than most who have ever picked up a pen and it must have been unlucky to be on the same beat at the same time as him.

Day 2
I picked up a copy of The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher.  Apparently most of what I have been reading this year is crap genre fiction (see Mr. Docx in the Observer) so I thought I should read some nice literary fiction.  TNC definitely passes the Docx test and I think it will be quite good.  I had this book from the library when it came out but never got to it before the library insisted that I bring it back.

Day 3
I found a brand new copy of Paul Auster's latest novel, Sunset Park.  It was only published in November and its astonishing that it could end up in a bin in  charity sale so quickly.  I probably would've purchased this book new so finding it for four bucks is a bargain. 

I overpaid for a copy of Fear of Drowning by Peter Turnbull.  I've had my eye on Turnball for ages - probably back from when my Ian Rankin-mania started in the mid to late 90s.  Rankin's Insepector Rebus series is one of my all-time favorites.  Around then I started noticing short paperbacks by this Turnbull fellow but I couldn't find out much about him.  He seems to have written a series of police procedurals set in Glasgow and now maybe is writing other stuff.  My book dowsing sense was telling me to start getting his books but I never did.  I've been passing on them for years now.  When I saw an ex-library copy Fear of Drowning I decided this would be the book I would read to determine whether or not to hunt down the rest of Turnbull's books.  Unfortunately, Turnball seems to have dropped Glasgow for North Yorkshire.  Nothing against North Yorkshire (never having been there) but Scotland (never been there either - but I feel like I have) is such a great place for crime novels.  On the other hand, I do have a box of Yorkshire Gold tea in the kitchen.  Had it for breakfast.  (Had a cup of Scottish Breakfast tea earlier this evening.)  So I guess I'm ready for Mr. Turnbull.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More Books!

Went shopping for books again today.  At a giant warehouse full of used books in Maryland.   For about five bucks each I got first edition hard covers of Richard Stark's Firebreak and Ask the Parrot.  And a trade paperback copy of Breakout.  And a first edition hard cover of Humans by some guy named Donald Westlake.  I never find good Stark stuff and this really made my day.  I have a fair number of Starks and Westlakes now but not many nice first editions.  And I had a 10% off coupon, too.  I was a little nervous about how much I'd have to pay for the hard covers because they were unpriced.  I tried not to fidget or act nervous when the guy at the register was trying to price them - I figured he would try to read me and apply whatever information he gleaned from me into the price.  He knew who Stark was but didn't know these were Parker novels.  And I explained that they were and that they are being reprinted by the University of Chicago Press.  And then he said he thought that Westlake may have just died.  And I said yes, on December 31, 2008 in Mexico City.  Then I started to get nervous that I was revealing my hand and showing how much I wanted these books.  (I'd make a terrible card player.)  I was thrilled to get them for so little. 

I also found Changes and Chances by Stanley Middleton.  An unread first edition (American) hard cover of his novel.  Middleton won the Booker Prize in 1974 for Holiday.  Actually, he had to share the Booker with Nadine Gordimer that year - her co-winning entry was The Conservationist.  Middleton was a teacher in Nottingham who didn't start to publish until he was 38 and went on to publish 45 books.  On the whole, copies of all these books are scarce.  This is only the second Middleton I've been able to find.  (I got Entry to Jerusalem for free from the Book Thing in Baltimore.  It is a great place - and everything really is free.  When I do a spring cleaning around here that is where I want to send my discarded books.  If I able to let any go.)  I only knew of Middleton because the crime writer John Harvey (who also started out a teacher in Nottingham I believe) wrote about him after his death.  I love Harvey's Charlie Resnick books - police proccedurals set in Nottingham - and everything he's written since he retired Resnick.  There's a lot of yapping about the rivalry between literary and genre fiction (like in today's Observer) but reading almost anything Harvey has written proves genre fiction can be as well written as literary fiction.  I like Harvey so much I always buy his books from Amazon UK the day they are published.  Of all crime writers working today, Harvey may very well be the best.
(My secret shame - two of these books are BCEs.)

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't

So I went to pick up four weeks of comics on Friday night (Hellboy, Elephantmen, The Astounding Wolf-Man, DMZ, The Invincible Iron Man, The Walking Dead, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Baltimore:The Plague Ships, Fables, and Sweet Tooth) and as I was paying, the guy on the other side of the counter said I was the third person today he saw reading Lee Child's 61 Hours.  He asked me what I thought of it and I gave him my standard Lee Child answer (the books are tremendously entertaining, expertly crafted popular fiction, and even though the books may sound like a horrific cliche that they are quite wonderful). 

I went to a used bookstore today and picked up three more of the Inspector Montalbano mysteries by Andrea Cammileri, Hotbed by Bill James, the latest William Trevor novel, Love and Summer, a reading copy of Doors Open by Ian Rankin, and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny.  There were a lot more books I could have left with but something I just read ( made me put them back.  

Olman just read The Corpse on the Dike by Janwillem van der Wetering and only sort of liked it.  And he's going to read another book in the series before he decides if he's going to read more.  This is a very sensible, level-headed approach.  Very much unlike me.  I have most of van de Weterings books and I've been wanting to read them for a while.  I'd heard good things about them and I love police procedurals.   And I enjoying tracking down all the books I'll need to be able to read a series in the proper order so to me, buying up a bunch of books that I do not know if I will like does not seem irrational.  But maybe it is.  It hadn't occurred to me that I would not like these books.

I put back a few books by Alan Furst.  I have five or six of his books already and hear nothing but great things about him.  Really, I should drop everything on go on a Furst-binge, he's supposed to be that good.
But I have known this since I first read about Furst in New York magazine some seven or eight years ago.  And I haven't gotten around to reading a single one.  So I put them back. 

The Bill James book I got, Hotbed, is something like the 26th or 27th installment in series about Harper and Iles, English cops.  I've accumulated maybe 11 or 12 of the books - but haven't actually read one yet.  And the three Inspector Montalbano books - police procedurals set in Sicily - same story.  Two massive violations of the Olman Rule.  I'm thinking that maybe this will be how I treat new things I come across.  Bill James and Andrea Cammileri are grandfathered in but everyone else in 2011, maybe I'll apply that test to. 

When I was paying for my books, the guy on the other side of the counter asked me what I thought about William Trevor as he had never read him.  I gave him my standard William Trevor answer - that he is the greatest short story writer alive today and that he should pick up his Collected Stories and read some of them. 

These two encounters have had me thinking about where I find out about what I want to read.  Lately its been all Donald Westlake and Richard Stark.  Which means Existential Ennui and the Violent World of Parker have a big impact on what I'm going to read.  My favorite book critic - Maureen Corrigan - just came out with her list of the best books of the year.  The Rap Sheet is a continually great source of crime and mystery novels.  Other websites of note are Detectives Beyond Borders and  The best sources in the offline world continue to be the New York Times, Washington Post, the New Yorker, the TLS, the Guardian, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books.  National Public Radio has amazing book coverage.  So does BBC Radio 4 - or what I have access to, mainly Front Row.  I miss the Times of London - they've disappeared behind a paywall and it is almost impossible to obtain a copy of the paper in the US anymore. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Public Displays of Affectation

Whenever I can, I like to look at what other people are reading.  I flew to New Orleans last week on a sold out flight and got the last seat on the plane.  Everyone knew the flight was sold out - there were several announcements to this effect and the departure area was mobbed.  Finding the last empty seat was a tremendous ordeal because everybody tries to bring all their luggage onto planes and it takes forever for people to store it in the overhead bins.  As I was walking to the back of the plane,  I passed the two guys on the flight who I knew I did not want to sit next to.  Of course, they are the ones I ended up sandwiched between.

The fat one, he was dressed in a full religious costume and his buddy, the smooth one, had only limited religious accessories.  Even though it had been announced that every seat was taken, these two had taken out all of their religious texts and made a big show of how devout they were by studying them as everyone else tried to board and settle in.  Of course, they filled the empty middle seat with their crap.  Naturally, this is where I was directed to sit by the stewardess. 

The smooth one was nice enough and got out of the way to let me in but the fat one, inexplicably sitting at the window seat, had nowhere to put his holy books and other crap and took forever to move all of his shit out of my way.  I had a bottle of water in my carry-on bag and as I tried to jam it under my seat, water squirted out of it like a fountain onto the smooth one's seat and all over his pseudo-holy book.  (I can say it was a a pseudo-holy book because these two were part of some fringe or small sect of their religion - which I will not name because I don't want to be called ant-* or a *-ist - and this book was all about predicting the future based on hidden numerical codes found in their holy texts.  Nonsense on top of nonsense, in other words.)  I felt bad about getting his book wet because I love books and am not a total jerk - but if this clown didn't need to have it open (it was a big book, not the kind of thing you casually read anywhere but at a table, much less in the few minutes before takeoff or in a throng of people scrambling to find seating in a cramped space). 

I had my book in my hands before I sat down - which was fortunate because I would not have been able to get into my bag to get it for the rest of the three hour flight.  I sat quietly and read my Scottish mystery novel once we took off. 

I was annoyed that I had to endure their unnecessary pre-flight display of piety.  And I would have been okay the rest of the flight if they kept studying or whatever it was they were doing.  But no.  After we were allowed to turn on our electronic devices, the fat one takes out a netbook from somewhere and starts to watch a movie and eat snacks.  And what does this religious scholar, someone so devout and with such an urgent need to study that he will do so even under the chaotic conditions of the boarding of an overbooked flight, watch during the flight?  The Pelican Brief.  When its calm and quiet, he likes to focus on an 18 year old movie with Denzel Washington and Julie Roberts.  (Side Note:  I have a signed first edition of the book.)  I wanted to tell him how it ended.

The smooth one slept most of the flight except for when he played video games on his iPhone.  He must have been having nightmares because he kept twitching and jerking.  Whatever he was dreaming of was not worse then the waking horror I had to endure.

As we waited to get our luggage after the flight I saw my seatmates had set up on a bench in the baggage claim area and got out their holy books and recommenced their study of spiritual matters while the rest of us fought to get our luggage.

On the return flight, I could only spot one book.  Something called Young Monsters, a slim, dust jacket-less, beige hardcover.  Its edited by Isaac Asimov and is a collection of short stories, mainly fantasy and sci-fi, about children who are in some sense monsters.  I liked the guy who was reading it - he looked like he would read interesting stuff - and want to find this book.

Forgotten Copy of The Memory Book

Oliver Sacks had a piece in the New Yorker this summer about the Canadian novelist Howard Engel.  (Only the abstract is available online for non-sunscribers - ) Engel lost the ability to read and to recognize words and letters after suffering a stroke.  He could still write - but he could not read what he wrote. 

After I read the article, I dug out my stack of Howard Engel novels.  I have all of his Benny Cooperman novels - about a wise-cracking small town PI in Canada.  Long ago I started but never finished his first book, The Suicide Murders.  It was okay - light entertainment, nothing great.  Something I need to be in the mood for.  I'll get back to it someday.

Tonight while doing laundry I found another Howard Engel novel (I have green Penguin editions of his books except for this one, which mean it doesn't live with the Penguins in the bookcase devoted to Penguins).  Its the first one he wrote after his brain injury.  Its called The Memory Book and instead of sorting socks I started reading it.  Benny Cooperman suffers a traumatic brain injury - much like Paul Cole in Donald Westlake's Memory - the book I am currently reading - and wakes up weeks later in the hospital.  With a shattered memory and with the same inability to read or recognize letters as Howard Engel himself experienced.  Though I only read a few chapters of it, The Memory Book is on much sounder ground with the science and medicine of memory loss and brain injury.  Of course, it was written 40 years after Memory.  While I am enjoying Memory, I cringe at the fact that I'm deriving entertainment from a character suffering from traumatic brain injury from a period before much was known about these things. 
Also lurking with my green Penguins I found this:
Supposedly its a classic in field on amnesia-noir lit.  I bought it after reading about it in reviews of the Vintage Book of Amnesia edited by Jonathan Lethem.  I thought it would be cool but could never get into.  Maybe I'll  have another look at it since I seem to be temporarily interested in this kind of thing. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to Nature

I spent last week in southern Mississippi, just off the Gulf Coast.  It was quite a bit warmer down there than it is up here and I was able to spend some time by the pool, reading in the sun. 
I started Louise Welsh's Naming the Bones shortly after it was released in March 2010.  Somewhere around page 90 I picked up a copy of The Hunter by Richard Stark and was detained by Parker for the next several months.  Which was a shame because Naming the Bones is fantastic.  It has all the things I like in a book:  dead writers, biographers, academics, murder, archives, lost manuscripts, hidden secrets, and a Scottish setting.  And some illicit sex.  I started over and this time gave it my full attention.  For which I was richly rewarded - its an excellent novel.

Somehow I bought a paperback copy of this book.  I meant to get a hard cover first edition but I guess I put the wrong version in my cart.  I wonder if there was a hard cover edition?  This makes me unhappy.

A few months ago, Existential Ennui wrote about Rogue Male, Ordinary Thunderstorms, and Concrete Island in a post called Going Underground.  I've been thinking about it ever since - in particular, I've been hoping for an an updated version which incorporates Richard Stark's Slayground - a book he was close to reading back then and that fits in perfectly with those three books.  The second half of Naming the Bones is set on a remote Scottish island and much of the writing concerns nature and landscape and they play similarly important roles as they do in RM, OT and CI.  All of which leads me to a gross generalization - nature and landscape don't seem to play much a role in modern American fiction.  There's plenty of it in English fiction but not so much in American.  In the Stark example here, the landscape is almost entirely artificial.  And nearly everything else on the American side is almost entirely urban.  In the UK it is perfectly normal to have thrillers and mysteries in rural settings and for them to work perfectly. 

I'm now reading Donald Westlake's newly published lost novel Memory.  I don't know what to make of it.  I like it because its Westlake - but I have the feeling it would never have been published or would have been long forgotten if it were by someone other than Westlake.  And some 50 years later, one can't help but feeling that what once was a noir staple - amnesia - is now better thought of as badly misdiagnosed traumatic brain injury.  But still I read on.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Eight Is Enough

I bought eight books on Saturday.  I haven't been out shopping for books in a while and I was really feeling the urge to go out and buy stuff.  So I did.  And it was much more satisfying than buying books online (which is what I am reduced to most of the time, given the collapse of bricks and mortar book selling and a lack of time).

Existential Ennui got a copy of something called X v. Rex by Philip Macdonald a few weeks ago and after reading about his copy, I wanted one, too.  (A lot of what he, EE, writes about has this effect.)  I found one but published under a different title.  Nothing special, just a paperback from 1983.  Bought it just to read, not to collect.

And I got a paperback copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for 50 cents.  I have never read a John Le Carre novel.  I've listened to and read interviews with him and always read about him but never got around to reading any of his books.  Can you be a fan of someone if you only read about him/her and never actually read their work?

I already have multiple copies of Joseph Mitchell's The Bottom of the Harbor but I couldn't pass up this one for only three dollars.  This copy is a first edition of the 1994 Modern Library edition of the book.  Not rare but it is a pleasure to hold, embodying all that mumbo-jumbo about how good a book can feel in your hands and how an electronic book can't provide a similar experience.  These nonfiction stories from the New Yorker about the New York City waterfront are some of my favorite things to read.  And re-read.  (I think his collection Up in the Old Hotel would be the book I would choose to have if I were to be stranded on a desert island.)
Okay, I already have a copy of Memory.  But I am taking a little trip soon and thought that this is something I would like to read while I am away.  So I bought a reading copy of it.  After paying through the nose for some old Richard Stark paperbacks I thought it would be wise to keep a pristine copy of Memory for my collection (though I must admit my Stark/Westlake books are for the most part a motley assembly of reading copies with only a few nice first editions).
This, Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast, I really dropped the ball on.  I should have bought this in hard cover when it was published.  But I was distracted by other things and never got around to it.  To make matters worse, I had a shot at a nice first edition of his new, second book but I was so down about not having the first in hard cover that I passed on it. 
 This was my only collectible purchase of the day - a first edition of this collection of Frank O'Connor short stories.  I have these stories in paperback - this copy is just to look at.
I knew very little about La Perdida by Jessica Abel.  A long time ago she did some work with the public radio program This American Life (perhaps the greatest thing on American radio) and that was enough for me to take a chance on it.  I almost always know a lot about a book before I buy it or read it so it was kind of fun to take a chance on something new.  This is about as wild as I get.
X'ed Out by Charles Burns was my final purchase of the day - and I bought it new and paid full price for it, unlike all my other items.  I think the egg on the cover has some sort of hypnotic attraction thing going because I did not plan to buy this.  I was going to wait and read it at the library or wait until all three volumes were published.  But once I had it in my hands, I had to have it.  I am not a fan of Charles Burns (I never even finished Black Hole) and don't know much about Tintin so I think that egg must be the reason I bought it.  Quite frankly, the book is strange and I don't know what to make of it.  But I can't stop looking at that egg.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crushing Kindle with Defeat?

I stepped on a Kindle Sunday morning.

I was coming down a ladder and didn't see it on the ground in front of the ladder.  I know it sounds bad but it didn't feel bad - I thought everything was okay.   No cracking sounds or broken plastic.  A minor mishap.  So I kept my mouth shut and went about my business.  (And there was a perfectly good reason why it was on the floor so there's no blame there.)

Sunday night my wife sat down to read on her Kindle before going to work and that's when we discovered that the screen was broken.  (Imagine Picasso working in E-Ink.)   I immediately confessed.   Then I ordered a new third generation Kindle right away.  I figured I was in the dog house (she really loves her Kindle) but I barely got in trouble at all.  (Which is remarkable given the fit I would've pitched if somebody broke my stuff.)

Technology is wonderful - but there are still some very practical limits to e-readers.  I destroyed a Kindle by accident - but all the books on it are still safe in the clouds or on a server somewhere.  I've stepped on books before, too.  But they all survived.  Given the damage e-readers are inflicting on real world book stores and publishers,  I think I know which force is more destructive.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Me and Mario

I read a lot.  I collect books.  I may even hoard books.  Probably fetishize some.  Spend an inordinate amount of time reading about books.  Shopping and hunting for books.  I know a few writers, too. (I chatted with a semi-famous American critic and novelist today.  I hadn't seen him since summer started.  He gave me the update on his work in progress - a novel about Nixon - and seemed genuinely pleased to talk for a while.)  And I love to read about writers.  Really, anything involving books I pretty much love.

But I do have a few blind spots.

For some reason, I am not very interested in Latin American fiction.  Maybe because I think I don't like magical realism.  Or maybe because in 5th grade I wasn't allowed to take Spanish.  Or because I am an ignorant gringo.  Or for no good reason.  I'm just not that interested in Latin America.  And because of this, for a long time I had no idea that I was regularly crossing paths with and sometimes interacting with Mario Vargas Llosa.  Someone finally clued me in several years ago.  He used to spend part of the year teaching at Georgetown University and that was why I was seeing (or not seeing) him so often.  Once in a while I would get a phone call from him - the first time he identified himself I asked him if he was the Mario Vargas Llosa.  And he sort of shyly said that yes, he was a writer.  Turned out to be a very nice fellow.  And a good dresser.  I hope I look as good as he does when I am that age.  His wife is very nice, too.

Anyway, the point of all this is that even though I have this book obsession, I never got around to buying any of his books.  Even though I had not read anything by him, I knew a lot about him and held him in high regard.  I had plenty of time to build a nice collection and I could have had all of his books signed.  Which would have been wonderful because as everyone knows by now, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature today.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Nice, clean new Parkers from the University of Chicago Press

Soon I'll add The Outfit

Firsts of Kahawa and Smoke

First ed of The Ax

Not all shelf porn is nice to look at.  Most of my Westlakes are reading copies with a few exceptions.  And it's terrible that for as much as I love Donald Westlake, I don't have all of his books together.  Pride of place goes to Michael Connelly, John Harvey, Ian Rankin, Ian McEwan, Andrew Vachss, James Lee Burke, Brian Moore, William Trevor, James Crumley and others whose books I have in mint first editions.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Nearly ten years ago, a woman I knew through work gave me a book to read.  I didn't know her very well.  I did know she was a reader and we would occasionally talk about books.  One day, she told me she was reading a novel called Half in Love by Justin Cartwright.  I knew very little about him but she always seemed to have exquisite taste in books so I knew it would be worthwhile to look into reading him.  I often saw remaindered copies of his novel Masai Dreaming for sale but had never picked one up.  Maybe a week later I saw her again and she let me borrow her copy, an English edition of the book.  I don't think it was ever published in the US.

Half in Love is about a British MP who is recuperating from being stabbed in the neck at a soccer match when he finds himself dealing with the fallout of a sex scandal (he had an affair with an actress).  It was an excellent novel but that is not why it made such an strong impression on me.  What did my head in is that this woman had given me a novel about a man with a scar on his neck.  I have a giant scar on the back of my neck.  There's no concealing it, no way to not notice it - especially since I have a shaved head.  It seemed a coincidence of great significance.  What it meant, I had no clue.  But someone's first choice of book to give to me, a man with a giant scar on his neck, was an excellent novel about a man with a scar on his neck.  Baffling.  Astonishing.  Meaningful?  I had no clue and it never seemed like a subject I could ask follow up questions about.  We talked about the book some when I returned it but the giant scar in the room was never mentioned.  It's hard to convey the impact this coincidence had on me though I can't articulate any more of what it meant.  What's worse is that I always mock people who relate to characters in books (and openly admit it or delight in it).

After Half in Love, I set out to find more Justin Cartwright.  And I've since acquired several of his other novels and whenever he has a new book I always order a UK first edition.  But until a few days ago, I had never seen another copy of Half in Love.  (I know they are for sale via the internet but that's no fun.)  While out shopping for books on urban sociology I stumbled across an autographed first edition of my scar book.  Now I have my own copy.

Most people do not ask how I got the scar.  Every so often, someone will.  If it is a stranger,  I will sometimes lie and tell them I was stabbed at a soccer match a long time ago.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

After Butcher's Moon, Bad Things Happen

I just finished reading Butcher's Moon and am done with the first part of the Parker series.  I have a three letter review of Butcher's Moon to offer:  Wow!

And now I can understand why Parker and Richard Stark vanished for 23 years after Butcher's Moon - they were spent.  I was secretly worried that I would find BM disappointing - mainly, I suppose, for the illogical reason that it was so hard to find a copy of it.  But BM delivered in almost every way imaginable.  I'll leave everything in general terms here because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who has yet to read BM (I accidentally learned of one crucial plot point and it drove me to distraction for most of the book waiting for it to happen.  And speaking of spoilers, someone also gave away a big part of Don't Ask, one of the Dortmunder novels.  I think about it all the time.)

I only have one of that second batch of Parker books - Comeback.  So I am going to give Richard Stark a rest and spend some time hunting down copies of the remaining books.  I want to know what Parker is like when he returns.  I've heard he doesn't really age and am curious to learn if he still has some of the same associates.

I thought my first post-Parker reading choice was going to be Kate Atkinson's new book Started Early, Took My Dog. I've been carrying around a copy of it in my bag all week.  But I was browsing at a used bookstore the other day and impulsively grabbed

I think I read about it in the Washington Post last year and saw a few mentions of it in other good places but didn't remember much about the book.  It was fun to grab something new after months of knowing exactly which Stark I would read next.  Half way through Bad Things Happen, I am extremely happy with my choice.  Its a hybrid of Paul Auster and Kate Atkinson - a crime novel involving writers, the police, an amatuer detective, murder and an obsession with stories and story-telling.     Quite enjoyable.  And it is a first novel, too.  Which is very impressive.  I only have a trade paperback copy of it but I think I will see out a first edition of it.  I think good things are in store for Harry Dolan.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trial by Jury (Duty)

Jury duty was hell.  And it is not over.  We finished voir dire just before 5 PM and our judge tried to get a jury seated so any non-jurors would not have to come back again in the morning.  But it didn't work out and we got sent home at 6 PM.  I know people have to sit in offices from 8 AM to 6 PM everyday but this was the most exhausting day of sitting around on hard benches I have ever endured.

I caught up on reading the weekend editions of the New York Times and Washington Post.  Read the New Yorker, too.  And I finished Plunder Squad.  It was so so.  I don't think it ranks in my top five Parker novels (Butcher's Moon, Slayground, The Score, The Outfit, The Man with the Getaway Face) but it was okay for the most part.

Finally, I started Butcher's Moon (and after only a 100 pages it may be premature to put it at number one).  I am a bit embarrassed that I whined about the cover of this book the other day.  I know what's on the cover because I spend a lot of time staring at covers (of my own and of the beautiful scans that certain people, you know who you are, post online).  But no one else can see what is on the cover of a mass market paperback anyway.  Not a popular format.  Most everyone I saw was reading trade paperbacks.  And I spent a good deal of time looking at what everyone else was reading:

These were the only titles I could confirm.  I saw textbooks on interior design and securities trading.  In general, everyone was reading.  Lots of magazines, newspapers, books.  For all the talk about the death of print, there is still a lot of reading going on.  An orgy of reading almost.  And there were several people with Kindles.  (Note:  to the lady on my right, reading Game Change on your Kindle, I wasn't starting at you, I was just trying to figure out what you were reading.  Its really hard to do when there's no cover to look at.  You might want to re-think this Kindle thing.)  One lady was watching season one of The Wire on her laptop (which I ID'ed by the particular version of the theme song).  We own the complete series DVD box set - best xmas present ever.

I hadn't been able to pick up my comics the past two weeks.  Luckily, my comic shop is just a few blocks away from the courthouse I was in and I was able to drop in on my way home.   I got issues of the BRPD, Daytripper, Iron  Man, Hellboy, Proof, Sweet Tooth, and the Plague Ships.  And the 2010 issue of something called Tripwire, a UK comics magazine.  I read about it last summer but could never find copies so I automatically grabbed it when I saw it on the racks.  I think I will be reading it in court tomorrow.