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Book Purchases and Shelves of Honor

A dance with Dragons   The Twelve  Lucifer's Hammer  Kurosawa Interviews

Bought some books today. Haven’t bought any for a while. E-books, mind. I’ve given up buying actual paper books unless it’s a cookbook or some sort of art/photo/comic book (what used to be called coffee-table books, even though I don’t have a coffee table). I‘m a proponent of e-books, and am a recovering book hoarder. Indeed, I once had a house with rooms full of books, and then I got over it. Sort of. I still adore books and reading, but I just had to stop. Now I have books sitting on built in shelves in my living room and four cardboard boxes in the basement full of books that are in a rotation up to the living room shelves that I call the Shelves of Honor; The Shelves of Honor which hold in permanent display the complete Shakespeare, Hemingway, Twain, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, O’Neill, Williams, Wodehouse, Hammet, Chandler, Carver and Dahl. More obscure masters are there too. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Joseph Mitchell, Jim Harrison, Haruki Murikami. More current favorites, TC Boyle, Pynchon, Vonnegut, PD James, Jim Thompson, Diaz and Atwood sit there too. Genre favorites are there also; particularly from Science Fiction, Fantasy and Food. Asimov, Heinlein, Ellison, Herbert, Clarke and Dick along with their children, Nancy Kress, Charles Stross, China Mieville, and William Gibson. Obscurities from the Sci-Fi ghetto like James Tiptree Jr., Sam Delaney, CJ Cherrhy, Clifford Simak and AE van Vogt along with my personal favorite among the outliers: Cordwainer Smith. Of course there are food books among the prized tomes. In this genre are Ruth Reichel’s three volume autobiography, which sounds hideously self-serving for a person who’s still alive, but believe me, her books are brilliant. And beyond brilliant are obscure writer, Poppy Z. Brite’s books set in her hometown of New Orleans amongst the pre-Katrina restaurant culture. These books speak volumes to me and reflect so much of what I love about the industry I’ve built a career around. If you can find them, buy immediately, “Prime”, “Liqour” and “Soul Kitchen” along with the impossible to find novella, “D*UC*K”. Sadly, it seems Ms. Brite has given up on NOLA after Katrina and is currently on walkabout in Africa with no more food books forthcoming – this news courtesy of the internet and Bing. Lastly, of note, is a delightful, singular food book by Michigan Literary God, Jim Harrison who collected all of his food columns for “Esquire” in one volume called “The Raw and the Cooked”. This you should have if only for the one tale of Harrison’s drunken, food-debauched rampage through Paris with none other than Orson Welles.

So. Back to my purchases. With an eye towards the holidays and the need for some reading that won’t require a smidge of real concentration I bought the latest installment in George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” saga. The book, “A Dance with Dragons” got terrible reviews from the Fantasy Fiction fandom, but I don’t care. It seems that Martin, with all his sudden general celebrity due to the success of the HBO serialization of his books, has decided to stretch things out a bit and vamp for a few installments. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but his novels tend towards the thousand page mark, and no editor seemingly dares to trim him down given his recent gravitas in the marketplace. Again, I don’t really care because I like the world he’s created and the characters he moves around in that world. I’ve never been one for Fantasy literature, because I hated it’s authors penchant for creating mutli volume series reaching far beyond the trilogies that I prefer. However, Martin lends a certain level of detail and sense of reality to the genre that sets him apart. He has a love for his creation, is immersed in it totally and has the ability to convey this passion to the page like no other fantasy novelist working today. Except for perhaps the young author, Justin Cronin who’s post-apocalyptic zombie epic, and first book in a planned trilogy “The Passage” took the genre by storm a few years ago. “The Passage” read like a combination of King’s “The Stand” and Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”. And did I say there were zombies? Yes, I know it sounds ludicrous, but I wound up ripping through “The Passage” in a matter of days even though it clocked in at a thousand pages plus and I was working a stretch of ten hour days to boot. Cronin’s world is real, compelling and although epic in scope, it is human in scale. The writing is tremendous. The second installment came out last week and it’s called “The Twelve”. It’s set in the same world, but focused on completely different characters and situations. I look forward to traveling through the zombie blasted United States with these people I don’t know yet.

Lastly, I bought an e-copy of a book I like to read from time to time, just for fun. It’s a disaster movie of a book called “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Niven is a journeyman Science Fiction author who created one of the singular greatest settings for adventure in the genre with a book called “Ringworld”. Indeed, I’ve read “Ringworld” and all of its permutations and found them all to be just what the doctor ordered when I’ve had a fever for high-tech, sci fi adventure. However, I’ve always been drawn to an author’s/artist’s work that seems out of their box, out of the comfort zone. “Lucifer’s Hammer” is one of those works. Niven is comfortable with the high concept, high adventure sort of vision and “Hammer” is really more down to Earth than he prefers to be. So, with help from his friend and fellow writer, Jerry Pournelle, they explore the “What Ifs” of a comet strike upon the Earth. This was back in the day when the idea that an asteroid strike killed the Dinos was new, and folks were coming to grips with the fact that our fare planet has, over the millennia, routinely been hit by gigantic rocks from the sky. I like “Lucifer’s Hammer” precisely because of its disaster movie template and all of the cool survival science injected into the narrative. I like that one of the heroes is a diabetic and the story deals objectively with just what that means in a post-apocalyptic world. Yes, death of course, but there’s something else too; something worthwhile along the way. The ends justify the means is heavy sub text in this one.
I also wanted to buy a book of interviews with film director Akira Kurosawa, but the e-edition hadn’t been finished yet. Kurosawa has fascinated me for a long time. He started out as a painter and became a film maker. Indeed, he would storyboards his films himself using water colors, pastels and sometimes even oils. Many consider him in the pantheon of the top ten film makers of all time. He never lost his painter’s eye and you can see it in every single movie he directed. I could choose my favorite scenes from all of his films and that film would be a montage of incredibly beautiful images flashing across the screen for at least an hour or more. Of all his films, I enjoy his non-samurai ones of the late Fifties/early Sixties the best. He practically invented the genre of the police procedural with my favorites, “Stray Dog”, “The Bad Sleep Well” and “High and Low”. The 15 minute, one take shot on the train in “High and Low” is a technical feat film makers still puzzle over today. This book of interviews with Kurosawa covers all of that and more. I find it fascinating and want to know more. I’ll get the e-edition eventually but until then, I have enough reading to get me through the holidays.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2012 10:23 am (UTC)
Do you ever write book reviews for publication? It sure seems to come naturally to you. (For me, it's a chore ike writing a college paper!)
Nov. 2nd, 2012 12:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I write reviews for the local paper and for a few print literary/art magazines around the the state. I even get paid occasionally. :D
Nov. 3rd, 2012 09:56 am (UTC)
Nice. I have reviewed for a few historical journals, but a free copy of the journal is the only payment I've seen.
Nov. 2nd, 2012 12:49 pm (UTC)
I must append my comments about the author Poppy Z Brite. Upon further research and scanning of her cool blog I find that she's not holed up in Africa someplace, but is in the general vicinity and concentrating her efforts upon painting and art. She has a lot of her pieces up on ebay for very reasonable prices. Its good stuff, I really like her portrait series of characters in her books and will probably buy the paintings of the main characters from her food books once she gets to creating them.

One other thing, Ms. Brite is now Mr. Billy Martin. I've never had a favorite author of mine become trans sexual. Have to process this. It would seem that there are a thousand ways this could affect his artistic outlook. Or maybe it hasn't changed anything at all. I mean other than the obvious effect the liberation of the psyche from a gender prison might have on your life in general.

Mr. Martin's blog:


A link to a sort of related article regarding Larry/Lana Wachowski who is the brother of Andy Wachowski. Together they are a potent film making team responsible for "The Matrix" series and a number of other sci-fi related films including the recent epic "Cloud Atlas". The usually secretive pair recently became very public following Lana's advocacy in the trans gender political arena.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )