Though engaging in a life of retail commerce and high finance is not my idea of a life well-lived, like any other aspect of human endeavors it does produce some narratives that can rise above the merely interesting. And some writers are even able to fabricate a decent book out of recent real life stories. Michael Lewis has done a fine job in a number of books, not the least of which is his latest opus The Big Short (Norton). and by the way, his ostensibly about baseball book Moneyball is being made into a movies. And currently there are James B. Stewart’s Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (Penguin Press) and Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon(Henry Holt/Times Books)keeping our latest economic travails painfully fresh.
And then there are movies focusing on the world of big money—some even made from books—the first of which was the quite serviceable Barbarians at the Gates. The Coen Brothers The Hudsucker Proxy was a business satire which I mention here because I will not pass on a chance to mention the Coen Brothers. Which brings me to the latest HBO offering, Too Big To Fail taken from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves (Viking). Of course there is no mystery about what happened but there is something about seeing the various players in America’s financial debacle played by decent actors. And oddly its hard to muster up the appropriate disdain toward Paul Giametti as Bernake or William Hurt as Treasury Secretary Paulson, though James Wood as Lehmann Brother’s CEO Fuld oozes enough hatefulness and mendacity to go around (By the way the film is well directed by Curtis Hansen (LA Confidential). IF you want to grasp a good sense of America’s travail Oscar winner Inside Job and Company Men do a fine job of distillation—the former factually and the latter providing the emotional coloration.
As much as I find Rupert Murdoch a dark and corrupting influence on the American media culture, I have been pleased to see that The Wall Street Journal has lively book coverage as exemplified by an article on “super-agent” Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie
You might want to have a look at my recent chat with British writer Philip Kerr creator of, among other things, eight Bernie Gunther novels.
Awards shows are a fact of modern cultural and commercial life. Most of them are dismissible. But I have found a small warm place in my cold cold heart for the Moby Book Trailer Awards Some of which you can see here
The Nation had a substantial piece on Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills Anatomy of a Murder Trial (Yale University Press) which quoted an interview I did with Renata Adler. Dare I say it is well worth looking at?
Words Without Borders published a wonderful story by Brazilian Lucia Bettencourt entitled Borges”s Secretary.
Lawrence Block is an award winning crime writer who has written over 50 books amongst which is his Matthew Scudder series. A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Mullholland Books) is the latest. I an aversion to series and the few Scudder novels that I have sampled are validation of my reasons. In the case of the latest opus I find the relentless recitation of Twelve Steps principles and processes totally uninteresting and as Scudder is an alcoholic ex NYC police we are bludgeoned into insensibility with his “facing his demons”.
Kind of Blue (Oceanview)on the other hand is a fresh story by ex LA Times reporter Miles Corwin. If you are wondering if the title derives from one of the greatest jazz recordings ever—yes, indeed. Ash Levine, a former major crimes detective in Los Angeles P.D., who has lost faith in his former department and colleagues and relies on the 1959 Miles Davis album for some regular mental health repair. Corwin creates an interesting crime and a plausible back stage look at police department operations and processes.I doubt Corwin will decline the temptation to make Asher Levine a series—which may work out as long as he doesn’t start naming the stories after jazz classics
And finally,for now, sabermetrician Bill James, known for introducing subtle statistical analysis to baseball is a fan of true crime stories and claims to have read thousands of these tabloid crimes. Popular Crime Reflections on the Celebration of Violence (Scribner) is a book about crime stories idiosyncratic an d thankfully devoid of sociological jargon. James includes a kind of true crime’s greatest hits from the 1799 murder of Elma Sands, axewoman Lizzie Borden to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Black Dahlia to JonBenet’s murder the Zodiac Killer, the JFK assassination, Sam Sheppard,to the O. J. Simpson murders. And he employs a story behind the story approach that goes a recitation of each crime’s details.