Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Book List

                                                                         2015 Book List

1.       Isolation Ward   Joshua Spanogle   Josh is a dermatological surgeon and a new friend of mine.  He’s carved a few skin cancers off my Frankenface.  His book is an excellent medical thriller.  I recommend it not because I know the author, but because it is a damned good read.

2.       The Boys at Twilight   Glyn Maxwell   Some poems too obscure for my tastes mixed in with what I consider real gems.

3.       Gangsterland   Tod Goldberg   Mafia contract killer building new life in Las Vegas as a rabbi.  Turns out his new life is not much different than his old.

4.       Barkeep   William Lashner   A good thriller with a cast of interesting characters each with a unique “voice.”

5.       Gone Girl   Gillian Flyn   Unlikeable protagonists who deserve each other tell this grim tale in alternating chapters.  The book is worthy of its best seller status.  It’s a gripping read.  Hard to put down.

6.       Don’t Think of an Elephant – know your values and frame the debate.   George Lakoff   George explains why it is necessary for Liberals to create their own frames of reference and not use the Conservative’s which has dominated since Reagan.

7.       Songs of Unreason   Jim Harrison   Manly yet sensitive poetry.  One critic called it “gentle testosterone”…that critic being me.  Harrison is my favorite poet and among my top five favorite novelists.

8.       Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.   Roland Sheppard   The author is an old high school chum of mine who is a a strong anti-capitalist activist.  He was present at the murder of Malcom X and witnessed the shooting.  This book describes why he believes the government is responsible for both murders.

9.       Flawless   Joshua Spanogle   Josh follows up his excellent debut novel with one that is even better.  Illegal cosmetic treatments that cause horrible facial cancers and the consequences of that.  Good, fast read.

10.   Slow Getting Up   Nate Jackson   Former Denver Bronco writes about his life in the NFL; the agony and the ecstasy of it.  Well written.

11.   Songs of Unreason   Jim Harrison The second reading was as good as the first.

12.   Into Daylight   Jeffrey Harrison   (No relation to Jim that I know of.)  Good poetry.  Emotionally moving.

13.   Selected and New Poems   Jim Harrison   More brilliance.  There is a selection of poems called “Letters to Yesenin” that is mind blowing.

14.   Stargazey   Martha Grimes   Inspector Jury, Melrose Plant and friends solve a mystery, but the killer, a woman, eludes them in the end.

15.   The Drop   Dennis Lehane   Fast, entertaining read with interesting characters.

16.   La Brujo de Portobello  Paulo Coelho  (Read in Spanish)  Abandoned ¾ of the way in.  I don’t care how it ends.

17.   The Fine Art of Fucking Up   Cate Dicharry   Academics and artists clash during  a flood.  Good characters, good read.

18.   The Woman Who Lost Her Soul   Bob Shacochis   Pulitzer runner up that I had to push through to finish.  The prose was too dense for my tastes.

19.   Vertigo 42   Martha Grimes   Always satisfying mysteries from Martha.

20.   The Case Has Altered   Martha Grimes  Ditto above

21.   The Pleasures of the Damned   Charles Bukowski   A tome – 548 pages – of Bukowski’s poems.  What can I say?  The man was a genius.   I loved ever line.

22.    The Private Dining Room   Ogden Nash   Clever poems all.  A treat to read.

23.     The Five Bells and Bladebone   Martha Grimes   Inspector Jury solves another mystery.

24.     Refusal     Felix Francis    Felix has his father’s (Dick Francis) flair for plot but lacks his ability to develop character and produce better prose.

25.     Star Island   Karl Hiaasen   Fun read.  Not his best, but still entertaining.

26.     Help the Poor Struggler   Martha Grimes   Closing in on the last of unread Martha’s. 

27.    Calico Joe   John Grisham   Baseball story.  Okay, I suppose, but I prefer his legal thrillers.

28.   The Horse You Came In On   Martha Grimes  The last Richard Jury mystery I hadn’t read…I think. There may be one more.



Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Mary, Frank and Me

 Mary, Frank and Me
as told by the ghost of Percy Bysshe Shelley channeled through Doc Walton

Mary was the uncontested beauty of our group, a walking wraith of sunshine and light.  We all loved her, none so much as I of course, and there was not a man or perhaps a woman as well, for we were a libertine lot after all, among us who would not have gladly changed places with me, the object, for reasons I will never understand, of her eye.  But I wish not to linger here on Mary's physical charms as I will spend a lifetime singing her song elsewhere inspired by the realization that the beauty I find in nature was awakened first in me by the mere sight of her.  I wish, rather, to speculate how it all came about, the work that made Mary's name known to all.

We had gathered as we often do near Lake Geneva, Switzerland.  The year as I recall was 1816.  Lord Byron, a dear friend and at that time the only one of us to have a farthing to fling, had invited us to stay at his baronial lodgings for the summer in the Villa Diodati at Cologne.  Mary and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont who was at the time pregnant with our host’s child, along with a young doctor friend of Lord’s, one John Polidori, and I had all been friends for some time, drawn together by our liberal views and our commitment to the literary arts.  We were to spend the days exploring the countryside with its renowned botanical lushness - surely fodder for my pen - boating on the lake, writing, and in general taking the air to clear one’s head of the wine and laudanum to which we had ample access during the long evenings spent together reading each other’s works and engaging in conversations the like of which would curl the hair of an ordinary citizen of the day were he or she to overhear the religious blasphemy, the sexual openness, and the political diatribes we each were prone to espouse.  Mary’s views, I must mention, were surprisingly among the darkest and she often called upon me to offer up one of my verses to ease her gloomier moods.

The weather that summer, as if to dampen our group’s usually high spirits and turn our thoughts as well as our physical selves inwards, was abominable.  There was incessant rain accompanied by cannon-like thunder and blinding bolts of lightning that left one both deaf and sightless if caught outdoors or too near an open portico. Mary alone seemed undisturbed by lightning’s sudden intrusion and raw power; an indicator I suspect here in hindsight of what was to become.  Among the dreariest of conditions was the constant chill that pervaded if one ventured beyond the reach of hearth’s fire.  We were all, with Polidori’s possible exception, of an emotional disposition - none more so than Mary - and consequently were affected by the weather more than others of lighter heart whose personalities allow them to shake off the gloom of a grey day and carry on if not cheerfully at least with the optimistic outlook that the next day will dawn warmer and brighter . 

It was during an evening of rainfall such as I have described, that Lord Byron, to fill a conversational void brought on by the lack of wit that accompanies a group depression, suggested that he read aloud from not some of his lovely verses, but rather, from a book of German ghost stories that he had found among the villa’s meager library offerings.  We agreed eagerly - anything to change the mood - and listened attentively as he did so.  Polidori, a passionate man and imaginative writer, followed the reading with a story of his own creation.  It involved a hideous blood sucking beast.  It was sketchy and incomplete, but found us all paying rapt attention during the telling.  Polidori had no ending for his tale and asked us to find a conclusion for him.  Not one among us agreed to the request for none could duplicate the unique style of Polidori’s imaginings.  He was left to find his own ending, a task he accomplished somewhat later with surprising results.  Just before we retired for the evening, Lord Byron put forth the suggestion that we all write our own horror stories and read them aloud at some future date, the group to decide then whose tale of terror was best.   I readily acquiesced along with the others even though I knew that my being a lyrical poet put me at somewhat of a disadvantage.  My tale, if I may shamelessly trumpet it now, was penned much later as I was slow to find a theme.  It was ancient mythology and Mary’s story that inspired me eventually to pen Prometheus Unbound.  The date for our group’s original offerings was set for three weeks hence.

Two stories of historical note were born as a result of that evening’s challenge.  Mary’s, of course, is most certainly the more famous, but Polidori’s Vampyre had as lasting a consequence on the literary endeavors of the future as Mary’s “Modern Prometheus.”  Vampyre gave us a creature that Bram Stoker would meld with his vision of the undead and deliver in his brilliant gothic novel Dracula.  But it is Mary’s horrible yet somehow sympathetic creation that endures unrevised to this day. 

How such a monster had been wrought from the mind of a gentle, well bred,  woman of the age I will now endeavor to explain.

Mary was but a child of sixteen years and I a lad of barely twenty-one when we fell  deeply in love.  Her father, William Godwin, a philosopher and writer of some reputation in his own right, once a friend, was no longer so for reasons I wish not to detail here for they have little if any impact on my subject.  Allow me to just recall that he did not approve of a union between Mary and me and it was for this reason our affair took on a clandestine aspect.  We met often in secret and in the most unlikely of places, a truly ghostly setting. We gathered during night’s darkest hours in the cemetery that held the coffin of Mary’s own mother.  It was upon the lush grass growing from the soil above her grave that Mary and I consummated our love.  This location and the deeds done there, I would submit, planted the first seed in Mary’s fertile imagination that would grow in time to become her most famous creation.

After months of planning Mary and I fled from her father’s domain never to return. We wandered Europe for a few years uncertain where to alight.  I had early on some family money and earned a bit more as a critically acclaimed but as yet not popular and thus not often published poet.  When my family disowned me for my scandalous behavior and ceased my funding we were often nearly destitute.  We had, however, acquired many good friends, Lord Byron among them, and from time to time accepted their patronage.  We wished during our better, more flushed hours, to have a child and although Mary’s womb proved as fertile as her imagination, her body initially proved incapable of bringing one to full term and our first three were lost.  This, it seems to me was the second psychological factor in her mind’s sculpting of what would become Victor Frankenstein and his monster.  What parent I ask you would not wish to bring life to that which they had conceived but remained unborn?

There then lacked but the asking for the tale to arrive on the page and our group had done just that, much as writer’s groups in your modern era often inspire works that would never have been wrenched from minds busy elsewhere were it not for suggested topics.

Mary brought her Frankenstein to us in a shortened form that long ago day and it was quickly deemed the best of all.  It was at our insistence that she would later lengthen to completeness her fantastic tale. 

Though it is impossible to fully explain the nature of one’s creative effort, Mary did reveal to me as we sipped champagne on the date of the book’s first publication, that the parts for her story were all lodged randomly in her subconscious and her task was simply – if the word simply applies here - to dredge them, sort them, and pen them to paper.  She wanted a creature equal in its gruesomeness to Polidori’s own. - we were, after all, in a competition, albeit of our own devising – and she found it in Victor Frankenstein’s assemblage of body parts robbed from the graves of the recently dead.  The lightning Mary so often pondered would spark the monster to life and then would follow the agony of its existence as a being separate and apart from all others; an agony that could and would lead to violence.  Victor Frankenstein, perhaps the original “Mad Scientist,” would bear the ultimate responsibility for the abomination he brings to life and the consequences of its actions.  He would follow it to the far corners of the earth endeavoring to put an end to the torment that both he and the creature share… but to no avail.  His inhuman creation not born of woman cannot die and will wander the earth for eternity.  In the end a tragedy, not a horror story at all.

But the book was not received that way and Mary tried unsuccessfully to distance herself from her famous Frankenstein by writing other books.  None, though, would prove to have an impact anything near that of her singular masterpiece of the macabre.  For several years following the book’s publication her notoriety would bring distress, but she would ultimately come to understand and accept that she and Victor Frankenstein’s undying monster would make her, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, immortal as well.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

2014 Book List


 1. The Litagators   John Grisham   Entertaining and informative as Grisham always is.

2. The Strain   Guillermo Del Toro   First book of a trilogy.  A new kind of vampire.  First half of the 
book is very good. Second half, not so much.

 3. Five short stories from The Best Of P.G. Wodehouse  Always a pleasure.

4. The Rosie Project   Graeme Simsion  Entertaining love story with a mildly autistic/genius narrator. Good fun.

5. A Short History of Nearly Everything   Bill Bryson.  The big picture made clear.  Good stuff.

6. Paper Trails   Pete Dexter  Pete’s newspaper columns.  Great reads.

7. The Intrusion of Jimmy   P.G. Wodehouse  Great fun as always.

8.  How Long is Now?  Tim Freke  Interesting philosophical tome. Worth a look see by anyone.

9. The Goldfnch   Donna Tartt  A deserving Pulitzer winner.  Beautifully written.

10.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter  Jeff Lindsey  Fun, fast read from which the Dexter TV show’s first episode was written.

11. Mary’s Mosaic   Peter Janney   How JFK’s main squeeze was murdered and by who.  Nice companion piece to JFK and the Unspeakable.

12,  Rainbow’s End   Martha Grimes  Another satisfying Richard Jury and Company mystery.

13.  The Little Nugget.  P.G. Wodehouse  Always fun, but this one is not special.

14.  Silent in the Grave  Deanna Raybourn   Mystery set in the 19th century and told by the protagonist, Lady Julia Grey. Plays out in a nice unhurried fashion.

15. The Strain Book 2    Guillermo Del Toro  The story expands, becomes broader in scope.  Just good enough to move me on to book 3.

16. Silent in the Sanctuary.  Deanna Raybourn   Lady Grey solves another murder mystery in her own unique style.

17. Vertigo 42    Martha Grimes  Martha’s latest is one of her best.

18. Silent on the Moor  Deanna Raybourn  Nice wrap up of the trilogy.

19. Over Easy  Mimi Pond  Graphic novel set in a ‘70s diner.  Big fun.

20. The Little Warrior  P.G. Wodehouse  Love and complications around the making of a Broadway play.  Good P.G. stuff, as always.

21. Foul Matter  Martha Grimes  Most entertaining book of the year so far.  Read it all in two sittings. Publishers, writers, agents, editors and …hit-men. Fabulous!

22. Cold Flat Junction    Martha Grimes  More good Martha.  Twelve year old girl narrator solves murder mystery.

23.  The Deer Leap   Martha Grimes  Like I was when I ran out of Dick Francis’ mysteries, I will be when I’ve read the last of Martha’s, sad.  Always good entertainment.

24.  The Man With A Load Of Mischief.  Martha Grimes   Martha’s first Inspector Jury mystery.  I’m caught up now and will let Martha go for awhile.

25.  It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try To Eat It   Bill Heavy  Good writing from a man trying to catch, shoot, grow and forage for his own food.     

26.  The Souls of All Living Creatures   Vint Virga  D.V.M.  Caring for animals and philosophically linking their ways to ours.  Well done.

27. The Road Home  Jim Harrison  A great book.  A long, slow, deep read. I savored it from beginning to end.

28.  Love Among the Chickens  P.G.Wodehouse  Frolics and love at a chicken farm by people who know nothing about chicken farming.

29.   Different Seasons  Stephen King  I had read this collection of novellas before but didn’t realize it until I was well into it again, so I continued on.  Four solid stories and an interesting afterword.

30.  Desperation   Stephen King   Not one of his best, but still readable.