Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler

My Sixties Reading List (1969-1971)

28 Aug

 

 

 

 

Man With the Golden Arm

Catch 22

 

 

Magister Ludi

 

V

Howl

 

 

 

Trout Fishing In America

Soul On Ice

 

 

The Self and Others

 

 

 

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The Raymond Chandler Omnibus

 

 

Things Fall Apart

 

 

 

 

 

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

 

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

 

 

 

Slaughterhouse Five

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Dune

 

Naked Lunch

 

a Fan’s Notes

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

 

The Wretched of the Earth

 

 

Hall of Mirrors

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Four (not Miles Davis’s)

11 Jul

 

 

 

Heretics by Leonardo Padura

 

We’re now at the halfway point of the summer and, to quote Beatle (it pains me to think that there are people who don’t know who he is) George Harrison, “life goes on within you and without you…” Reading being part of the thing that goes on within you. As there is a yearly onrush of pre-season beach/summer reading list/listicles one might expect an imminent outbreak of reading across the land—which honestly has escaped my attention—though I would be curious to know what was actually being read. I think I had an entry in the summer reading derby but it is a few weeks later I (understandably?) missed a few fine novels. An oversight I correct here and now.However I am omitting the book that to me is the most important novel of the year—Heretics by the Cuban novelist, Leonard Padura, The combination of being set in Cuba and using the infamous SS St Louis incident (  in 1940, 900 hundred Jews fleeing the horrors of the Third Reich were denied entry to Cuba and sent back to Europe.) Heretics is a big book with many pages and travels the world and the centuries making a bit off the beaten track for our domestic reading public.

 

On the other hand,  the quartet of  novels I am lauding below are both well=wrought and accessible

 

 

 

 

You Belong to Me -Colin Harrison

 

Harrison is a writer who I came across almost thirty years ago when he was fiction editor at Harper’s.  Since then I have read with pleasure most of the eight novels he has written.  This new tome (coming eight years since his last) is set in contemporary Manhattan. It displays Harrison’s commanding understanding of the various life forms that accrete to the Universe’s center of ambition which results in some terse and mordant social commentary.This, as well as a propulsive plot and a fascinating protagonist, pasted me into my seat,  reading it straight through (you know, the “within you ‘ thing).

 

Megan Abbott’ opines,

 ‘Harrison loves his schemers, especially the high-stakes New York City variety, and his exuberance for plundering financiers, money-grubbing heirs and double-dealing musclemen for hire is the fuel that propels “You Belong to Me.” At the center is Paul, whose comfortable lifestyle comes from his boutique law practice but whose passion lies in obsessive rare map collecting…”

The story that follows is deliciously twisty and, intermittently, startlingly violent. With such a wide cast, its many characters risk feeling like types, or even stereotypes, but Harrison attempts to give most of them a moment in the sun: an explanatory back story, a convincing moral justification, even a Rosebud moment. “Everyone had a private journey,” Paul observes, “and no one was ever completely known by anyone. *

 

 

* Megan Abbott’s  explication of You Belong To Me

 

The Force Don Winslow

 

If you come  to this new novel by Don Winslow unaware of his  body of work, then make it a point of at least looking up the press on his magnum opus , The Power of the Dog and its second part The Cartel (Winslow has apparently set himself the task of a part 3) which unpack the web of complicity that is the thing called the War on Drugs. The Force is set in New York City and the title refers to the New York City Police Department. I doubt you have ever read a procedural like this one (Princes of the City comes close). In a brilliant introduction to the story the book’s epigram quotes, Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely,

 

“Cops are just people, ” she said irrelevantly.

They start out that way, I’ve heard.”

 

 

 

Prussia Blue Philip  Kerr

 

I came to Scottish-born writer Philip Kerr by reading one of his stand-alones A Philosophical Investigation about 30 years ago. It was only later that was drawn in and hooked by Kerr’s Third Reich era Berlin Homicide detective  Bernie Gunther of which there now exist eleven volumes. I have been pleased to chat *with Kerr on a  few occasions in which I found him to be as entertaining as was reading his stories.  Serendipitously I across Jane Kramer’s smart article on Prussian Blue the most recent in The Gunther Saga.  Among other of her  elucidations—

I never knew how hard it was to describe a thriller, especially one in which fact and fiction blend so seamlessly, until I sat down with “Prussian Blue.” Thrillers are thorny gifts for critics.  With a great thriller, the important thing is to tell the story while never giving anything away, certainly not who did it and, in the case of a Gunther thriller—densely populated and always dizzyingly complex—the logic by which our redoubtable protagonist finally gets his man.

The best thrillers share some of that depth and density. They are really social histories, disguised in nineteenth-century-novel form, though often with a bit of late-twentieth-century nouveau roman thrown in, perhaps to signal the sensitive self-searching of some of their toughest sleuths. They paint what could even be called ethnographic portraits of societies in which particular kinds of crimes consistently appear and of the people who tend to commit those crimes.

 

*My first chat with Philip Kerr

 

 

 

 

Isadora Amelia Gray

 

Based on reading her stories in Gutshot, that Amelia Gray chose to examine the life of Isadora Duncan after Duncan suffered an unimaginable personal was something unexpected. But put surprise that down a lapse in my understanding of the growth of a young writer. If you are  expecting a window into the famous dancer’s art you will be disappointed as Gray’s focus is Duncan’s post-tragedy life

Gayle Brandeis gushes* (with justification)

 

…She [Gray] brings her characteristic wit and observation and sense of the absurd to this novel. As with her other books, it is divided into fragments — each chapter almost a work of flash fiction or prose poem unto itself — but it is the most deeply sustained of her books to date, the most epic and ambitious. It is a brutal novel in many ways, completely unrelenting in its depiction of pain, yet that makes it exhilarating, too. Gray is a fearless writer, a writer willing to look into the most profound darkness and find strange, compelling music there. I started out reading this book wishing I had written it; I finished it deeply grateful Gray had.

 

 

* Gayle Brandeis writes on Amelia Gray and her newest novel...

 

 

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In My Solitude: Esoterica & Fragments

23 Jun
Pete Dexter circa 2009 [photo:Robert  Birnbaum]

Pete Dexter circa 2009 [photo:Robert Birnbaum]

I am a big fan of writer Pete Dexter, whom I discovered around the time his National Book Award-winning Paris Trout was published. I was pleased to have a conversation with him for his novel Brotherly Love circa 1991.The publication of one of Dexter’s fictions causes me to suspend my required reading to take it up. Happily, Dexter has never disappointed. Here’s one of his droll insights from his 2003 novel Train:

He runs the Cassidy crime family. Little people with enormous heads, every one if them. And they’ve all have been shot in the head, and they never die They believe it’s the luck of the Irish—they walk around thinking they were all born lucky—and it never occurred to any them yet that if they were that fucking lucky, they wouldn’t keep getting shot

The Daily Beast has re-published a 34 year newspaper column A Dog Dies, A Boy Grows up

…reading Dexter’s columns you can see why he’d go on to become one of our great novelists…this story, which originally ran in the [Philadelphia] Daily News on June 2, 1980 appears as it did in the paper. In just under 1,000 words it stands as a stirring example of powerful newspaper writing at its best.”

Pete Dexter’s last novel Spooner which had autobiographical overtones was a wonderful story full of his Talmudic humor.

Claire Trevor from Farewell My Lovely

Claire Trevor from Farewell My Lovely

It take it on board that writing /creating a must read oracular 800 word column year after year is a challenge. Maureen Dowd has been at it for while and while I no longer feel she is a must-read (like her colleague Gail Collins) occasionally I check in with her commentary. Her June 14 exposition opened with:

The Bush Gang of Four

The Bush Gang of Four[/caption

NO one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.

“There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,” he wrote in “The Long Goodbye.” “There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.”

There’s the pale, anemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. “You can’t lay a finger on her,” Chandler notes, “because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading ‘The Waste Land’ or Dante in the original.” And when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith, he writes dryly, “she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.”

Can you guess who Dowd was writing about?

[caption id="attachment_5093" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Beyonce on Time magazine's 100 "Influential People" Issue Beyonce on Time magazine’s 100 “Influential People” Issue

The circumstances under which Time magazine become irrelevant never occurred to me—until I saw a recent cover for its “100 Most Influential People” issue. Beyonce, the entertainer graces one version.

Jay Z  on Mad magazine's spoof of Time magazine's 100 Most Influentiai covers

Jay Z on Mad magazine’s spoof of Time magazine’s
100 Most Influentiai covers

recent issue  of  the New York Review of Books

recent issue of the New York Review of Books

Novelist Tim Parks offers some cogent rumination in Reading: The Struggle, concluding:

I will go out on a limb with a prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel, or the novel of extensive narrative architecture, will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up, not a thread, but a sturdy cable. No doubt there will be precious exceptions. Look out for them.

I wonder how many times Dick Cheney has to remind the world he is still a free man before someone gets the idea that he should be tried as a war criminal. Maybe the same brave Spanish magistrate who issued summons to Henry Kissinger and General Augusto Pinochet?

Bob Shaccochis [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Bob Shaccochis [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

I had the pleasure of chatting with Bob Shaccochis last year on the occasion of his grand novel The Woman who Lost Her Soul where he talked about his rancher neighbors’ antipathy to dogs. The recent reports of a mad dog cop in Baltimore killing a dog reminded me of that chat:

Other than your wife, are there long periods when you don’t speak to anyone?

Yeah and there are two, two and half months when my wife isn’t there. Her professional life is centered around Florida, and she has to be there. But I am not lonely. I do get horny. My dogs are all I need to be happy. Then her, in that order (laughs). It’s the same for her — dogs first, me second. I made some friends downhill from me — people who live in a village that is their ancestral home. They are Spanish. If you say Mexican, it’s like calling them “niggers.” They told me, “We got rid of the Indians and we are not through yet. You are on our land.” They have grazing rights in the forest and sometimes they will yell at me because my dogs upset the cattle, “Control your dog or we’ll kill it.” I said, “If you kill my dog, I am burning down your house and killing everybody in it. And after we burn down your house I’ll get a bulldozer destroying what’s left and then I’ll be salting the fucking earth.”

It turns out that a few months later said neighbor did shot one of Shaccochis’s Irish Setters and he had him charged, tried , convicted and incarcerated for that murder.

Baltimore Atrocities
And in an incidence of cosmic confluence , I received a novel entitled The Baltimore Atrocities( Coffee House Press) by John Dermot Woods.Here’s what I found on the Web (his own web site seems to be out of action). He declares:

JDW: Like a lot of creators, I make myself reinvent the wheel for each project. It’s partially an attempt to overcome my tics and ingrained narrative habits. Of course, it doesn’t really work. But, if I didn’t try to change my approach completely each time, then I think my work would be exceptionally repetitive. I like control, structure, and dioramas–worlds I can control. This can lead to an over-emphasis on constraint and smallness. I’m not naturally inclined to improvise and let things fly. I have to give myself little challenges to open up my work. (Working with J.A. on No One Told Me was great in this way. He encouraged me to just push forward. I didn’t even pencil out those drawings before I committed ink and paint to paper.)

My problem with political correctness is not the correctness part—its the kind of knee jerk response that dismisses the shadings of meaning and value in the world. Take for instance the rage of all right thinking Americans that the Washington Redskins nomenclature is a slur on the existence of America’s native peoples. And the campaign by assorted parties to shed that rubric has now included the US Patent Office. Personally I think it matters not one bit whether the Washington NFL franchise is called the Redskins, The Kikes, The Darkies or the Gooks. At least billionaire owner Dan Snyder is throwing some money in the pot with the creation of a foundation to benefit native americans. And perhaps all those rallying to this cause would redouble their efforts to raise our benighted Indian peoples from the sorry state that the US government has put them in. Its worth noting that Indian fighter US Army General Sherman observed of the Indian reservations “…are worthless patches of land surrounded by scoundrels.

1/ 3 of San Antonio Spurs[photo borrowed from Hardwood Paroxysm]

1/ 3 of San Antonio Spurs[photo borrowed from Hardwood Paroxysm]


Coverage of professional sports, especially championship competition produces produces tonnage of verbiage I( one thinks of the Manila [Philippines] Municipal Dump). The recent San Antonio Spurs versus Miami Heat was no exception. I don’t recall one memorable column or thought except this clever observation from the fifth game of the series,

“They[Spurs] turned their defenders from the Miami Heat into well-compensated traffic cones.”

No Place to Hide by Glen Greenwald

No Place to Hide by Glen Greenwald

The New York Times chose Micheal Kinsley to review Glen Greenwald’s book about the Edward Snowden affair and NSA/US government spying. Kinsley trashes the book, calls Greenwald is a “self-righteous sourpuss” and validates the government’s right to massive unfettered surveillance of its citizens.

Greenwald and others respond here:

Do I need to continue to participate in the debate over whether many U.S. journalists are pitifully obeisant to the U.S. government? Did they not just resolve that debate for me? What better evidence can that argument find than multiple influential American journalists standing up and cheering while a fellow journalist is given space in The New York Times to argue that those who publish information against the government’s wishes are not only acting immorally but criminally?

Though I am no fan of soccer I did pay attention to the books on the sport. And thus I came across public blowhard Ilan Stavans self serving piece Why Has Literature Ignored Soccer? first he dismisses Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, ”

Soccer in Sun And Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

Soccer in Sun And Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

,

“Translated into English last year, it is his usual impressionistic hodgepodge of politics and history, less an insightful investigation that a series of forgettable haikus.”

Then this advertisement for himself

In my estimation, the best, most intelligent—and reliable—observer of the role of soccer in Latin American society is Juan Villoro. He has been in all the most recent World Cups as a TV commentator, including the last one in South Africa in 2010. Villoro and I recently published a book-long dialogue, El ojo en la nuca (2014), which talks, in passing, about his experiences.

Ilan Stavans is a Putz

Currently reading My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated by Don Bartlett(Archipelago Books)

Raymond Chandler is Still Dead

30 Oct
The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

I bow to no man nor woman in my appreciation of the great crime novelist Raymond Chandler. He wrote a handful of great stories which had the added feature of being wonderfully cinematic (or in the case of the Big Sleep not—which didnt make that film any less enjoyable). But as Philip Kerr (author of the Bernie Gunther series) observed in a chat with me, “…I am mindful of the reality that most crime writers write one or two, if not more, too many. And they flog it to death.”

I agree with Kerr, though I think that by their nature most serials run out of gas pretty early (with some exceptions,Kerr.so far among them.) John Banville, whose fiction I have enjoyed— even his nom de noir Benjamin Black’s Quirke novels. And now some one has resurrected the literary blasphemy of having Banville/Black write a Phillip Marlowe novel, The Black Eye Blonde (Henry Holt). In my recall, this gambit (calling it an idea doesn’t feel correct)was previously attempted when, as the story goes, the Chandler Estate “commissioned” Robert Parker to pen (or was it to complete?) a Chandler novel, Poodle Springs

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler (and Robert Parker)

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler (and Robert Parker)

Now this zombification of successful genre writers is apparently a burgeoning enterprise. Don Winslow wrote a prequel, Sartori, to Trevanian’s Shibumi. Ace Atkins has now published 2 Robert Parker /Spenser novels and Michael Brandman has taken up the Robert Parker/Jesse Stone series. And William Boyd has taken up Ian Fleming’s Bond with Solo (Harper)

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

I did read Black/Banville’s Chandler mimicry and if you haven’t and don’t intend to read the old master (or see the wonderful Robert Altman version of The Long Goodbye) then by all means have at it. It will entertain and generously viewed it is a competent homage. And there is no crime in that.

Currently reading Umbrella by Will Self (Grove Atlantic)

And It Stoned Me

18 Jun

Power of the Dog by Don WInslow


After I read Don Winslow’s novel The Power of the Dog a few summers ago I believed that I would never read as plausible an account of the War on Drugs and it complicit malefactors (the CIA, Drug Cartels, The Catholic Church, various agencies of the Mexican government, FARC et al). Since that book Winslow has published a number of novels and even been assigned to fabricate a Trevanian novel (Satori), which made no sense to me. But then Robert Parker was once asked to complete a Raymond Chandler novel and now Ace Atkins has written a Robert Parker/Spenser novel. I mention this because Winslow’s name will be bantered about in the coming entertainment news cycle (as well as on book pages)as Oliver Stone’s adaption of Winslow’s novel Savages makes its way to the once and future silver screen.

And, of course, as info-entertainment conglomerates become increasingly adept at synergizing/monetizing, it makes sense that Don Winslow has concurrently (with Stone’s flick) published a new opus, a prequel to Savages, entitled, Kings of Cool. The prequel is necessary for obvious reasons and may in fact touch off a new narrative trend in the genre world —especially for writers who never intended to create sequels/series—the allure of monetization possibilities weighing in heavily against other, uh, considerations.

The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow

Janet Maslin raises an interesting point about Stone’s film adaptation — can a movie sustain “Mr. Winslow’s heavenly understatement” without drowning in the violence of drug warfare? Whatever she means by “heavenly understatement’ it would be a shame if the film Savages was just another excuse for sanguinary mayhem

Winslow’s Savages and Kings of Cool are both written in a briskly paced, elliptical style that is particularly adaptable to cinema— lots of quick cuts and bloody mayhem (by now we all know that Mexican drug cartels (which are a necessary component of any LA crime story)means prodigious body counts as well as a Red Sea of gore. Which is not to say that Winslow’s recent fiction is not gripping—just that I found his magnum opus,The Power of The Dog, singularly entertaining. And given that it seemed to have escaped major review attention you may want to pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

Currently reading Land of the Blind by Jess Walter (Harper Perennial)