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Showing posts from October, 2010

Ava by Carole Maso

It's hard to exactly classify Carole Maso's Ava.  Calling it "prose-poetry" pigeonhole's it unnecessarily and perhaps makes it sound more difficult than it actually is.  But labeling it "avant-garde" or "experimental," appropriate descriptions each, might make it seem rather preciously pretentious, a book for hoity-toity muckety-mucks to show off how artsy-fartsy they are, which would be a damn shame, since the book, despite its unorthodox styling and unique narrative voice, is eminently accessible, readable, no matter its multilayered cinematic, classical musical, philosophical, and effusive literary allusions -- professorial, that is, and no surprise, since Ava's a comparative lit. professor  -- foundations.  I found it trance-inducing.  And I loved its seamless poetics.

The rhythm of her fiction, the cadence of her diction, mesmerizes.  One does indeed become entranced with even as little as a glance at her unique novel -- and let'…

The Fly Whisperer

I've noticed lately that whenever I step outside for any length of time, spend some quiet, reflective moments with my pipe and paper, sitting alone on a park bench or on my patio, the flies inevitably find me.  I don't witness this uncanny fly-companionship occurring among others seated in my vicinity, whether strangers, or family.  Ever.  Unless there's something rotting -- or unbathed -- around.  No one else I know attracts the flies as well as I.

I wonder if this fly-phenomena happens because the flies are drawn by the rottenness inside me?  You know, the cancer.  Not of cells necessarily, but of spirit.  Can they smell it like canines do?  Perhaps detect the death composition with their insect dispositions?  Do their many-faceted eyes help them focus and go all high-powered-microscope on it?

Or am I just full of feces?  A veritable feast for flies?  Does everyone commune with flies eye to eye, as I do?

The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen: A Break from William H. Gass', The Tunnel

What a perniciously pleasant surprise, The Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritsen!

I would never have even encountered Tess Gerritsen had Patricia Cornwell, my usual go-to-girl when I need me a good genre, CSI style fix, hadn't gone on such a long downward spiral into her malaise of mediocrity and self-plagiarism with the majority of her recent releases, like The Front (decent TV show, while it lasted) to name but one, which was already hot on the lackluster heels ("c'mon already, Patricia!) of her last four or five Kay Scarpetta novels going back to the turn of the century, so I desperately needed another crime thriller option, another author (a former doctor/medical examiner/coroner/detective type) to infuse some freshness and excitement into the genre since I needed a break from the tedium of reading The Tunnel start to almost finish, and wouldn't'cha know it, Tess Gerritsen, bless her diabolical authorial finesse, was there to see me through some temporary readers-…

Adrift on the Nile: Egypt's Less Than Zero by way of Crime and Punishment

The way the disillusioned twenty- and thirty-something characters in Naguib Mahfouz's short novel, Adrift on the Nile, are collectively forced to confront the consequences of their reckless, amoral actions (a murder and its cover up), rooted as they were in the fashionable nihilistic climate of the times among the Egyptian elite, circa late-1960s, mostly citizens who dearly missed the old ways when art and Western philosophy were still esteemed by those in power, in the pre-revolutionary days of leisure before Gamul Abdul Nasser kicked out the British and imposed a more rigorous Muslim ethic among Egypt's populace, reminded me a lot how Raskolnikov, from Crime And Punishment, had to confront the consequences he created for himself by committing what amounted to an "experimental" murder: A murder committed both to enact through his crime the contrived "truth" of an inhumane ideology that Dostoyevski was skewering at the time, and also to test (unconscio…


I've been thinking back some this past day thanks to a recent New Release Tuesday over at The Book Frog, where Philip Yancey's name came up as he's got a new book out, and his name reminded me of my days, seemingly a lifetime ago, when I embraced the Christian faith, and voraciously read not only Yancey's books, but a host of other big name Christian writers too numerous to recall every one by name (J.P. Moreland, J.I. Packer, to name a couple); and in this religious wave of nostalgia, I recalled a poem I was lucky enough to get published in Alliance Life Magazine way back when.  In its Sept., 1992 issue, I believe, if memory serves.  I can't seem to locate my copy of the actual publication at the moment -- to scan and upload and show off, basically -- but I thought I'd post the poem, nonetheless, as best as I can recall it from my memory anyway, here and now.  I was twenty-three and green and maybe trite at times, but man was I trying to be sincere ...  So, f…

Lessons Learned with Terri Brint Joseph

Terri Brint Joseph knew how to make a fellow professor's day.  Spring semester, '92, English Prof. Tom Massey had had a stroke the previous Fall.  Tom Massey loved his students and he let you know it.  He didn't just critique and correct improper grammar from your Emerson or Whitman essay, but was effusive with his praise.  Encouraging.  He was obviously beloved as well by his colleagues.

Lucky for Prof. Massey that Terri Brint Joseph was sensitive to his missing the Chapman students, as he was unable, still recovering from his stroke, to attend his classes.  So, what does Prof. Joseph decide to spontaneously do one Tuesday afternoon that Spring '92 semester for an "advanced creative writing" course, but bring the classroom to Prof. Massey.  Lucky for Prof. Massey that his home, a handsome Craftsman with those striking wraparound porches replete with swinging benches and hanging ferns, a house practically ubiquitous in the sycamore and maple shaded neighborho…

Prick-Me-Up™ , for Men

Ladies, does your man need a little, uh, prick me up, in the bedroom?  Are you sick and tired of trying to "set sail" at only "half mast" all the time, whenever that special moment comes along?  Well, say goodbye to all those pills with pesky side effects and lotions and creams and unfulfilled evenings.  Now, with Prick-Me-Up™ Injectables, for Men, your Man, the one and only, can provide you with the complete satisfaction you deserve.  Guaranteed!

Merely apply the Prick-Me-Up™ needle applicator to the base of your man's Cadillac, in a flaccid state only.  (WARNING: Never apply the Prick-Me-Up™ needle applicator during a tumescent state, as the powerful Prick-Me-Up™ secret ingredients could cause your Man's heretofore software to either spontaneously combust or explode.)

Just press the pink button to the Prick-Me-Up™ needle applicator, and with a prick as quick as a blink (he'll barely feel it!) he'll go from zero to six-plus inches in 1.4 seconds!  …

The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

I'd just as soon not have read The Demon In The Freezer if it meant I could remain ignorant of the fact that vaccine resistant smallpox and anthrax are already undoubtedly in the hands of terrorists and that a large scale bioterrorist attack on the United States is more a question of when than if.

I'd really rather not know that the former Soviet Union was producing weapons-grade smallpox by the TON (what the fuck?) as late as 2001 on the very eve of 9/11, and that now, or so defected Russian scientists say, the authorities in the former Soviet Union have no idea where the tons of weapons-grade smallpox went.  They fucking "lost it," so they say.  Er, "sold it" is more like it.

I'm indefatigably disturbed by the paradoxical fact that despite the worldwide "eradication" of smallpox in India by 1978, the United States and Soviet Union decided nevertheless to freeze smallpox and keep it "safely stored".  Presumably doing so, so that in…

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn

This book, the awesome Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits and others like it are probably obsolete now, now that  Billboard Magazine no longer dominates public perception as to what "singles" (remember them?) and compact discs (awaiting the lonely, disused arms of cassette tapes and 8-tracks and LPs) are listened to and bought most often, as they've largely been replaced now by song downloads. 

But there was a time in the not-so-distant past, before iTunes and defunct Napster, when people actually bought records and tapes and CDs at an actual record store (R.I.P. Tower, Licorice Pizza, The Wherehouse, Music-Plus, the majority of indie record stores a la the one read -- and seen -- in High Fidelity) and perused the album or CD racks; holding actual music in their hands rather than some ubiquitous and annoying hi-tech gadget robotically carried around everywhere like a calcified white ear outgrowth -- the iPod; gone is oogling the cool album artwork and memorizing the liner no…

Complete Poems by Ernest Hemingway

That such an alleged master of prose could write such wretched poetry is astounding.

There's no getting around that Ernest Hemingway sucked as a poet. Papa's poetry is so juvenile it's embarrassing. Hemingway's Complete Poems are only for those curious (as I was) or for the obsessed Hemingway completist who simply must possess every work the author ever wrote, no matter how terrible, or perhaps for the hack Hemingway scholar looking to explicate the likes of the following terse verse:

There once was a cat named Crazy Christian / Who didn't live long enough to screw (from the poem "Crazy Christian").

Complete Poems could only have been published posthumously, as Hemingway, no doubt, could not have tolerated the negative criticism (and possible well deserved parodying) his bad poetry would have received.

The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want Him for long.

Whatever, Ernest.

Readers with any literary taste and/or poetic sensibility whatsoever won't want t…

Crash by J.G. Ballard

Crash is not a badly written book. The prose is blunt and bare and beautiful. Crash, among the critics, consistently ranks among J.G. Ballard's finest creative achievements, up there with Empire of the Sun. I expected, seeing it ranked so high on so many best ever lists, be they science fiction or postmodern top 100s, to love it. And yet I loathed it. It made me ill, the twisted depravity of its car wrecked, grotesquely acting characters.

Is something wrong with me? I usually like this type of demented shit. And I live for demented shit. I crave demented shit like a zombie craves fresh flesh.

Crash was just too emotionally empty for my taste. And I'm certainly aware Ballard was aiming for that type of emotive void, to elicit a reaction by which he could thereby critique how technology (cars, wrecked cars, in this case) distances us from one another, and destroys our humanity by transforming us into technological pervs essentially. Something like that. Forgive me for …


Zodiac lasts almost three hours, but when it's over, and Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the cartoonist-turned-amateur-sleuth, Robert Graysmith, has looked the Zodiac serial killer in the eyes, you'll find, if you're like me, that the movie moved so fast and kept you so enrapt that only three minutes will have seemed to pass. I loved it.

I remember watching Dirty Harry and its sequels countless times as a boy, which were loosely based (at least the first installment) on the Zodiac serial killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but found the goofy bad guy of Dirty Harry whom Clint Eastwood goes vigilante-on at the end, to be a mostly unrealistic character, like this is just a movie I'm watching, right?, none of this could happen in real life.

That the Zodiac atrocities did happen in real life makes Zodiac -- already a mesmerizing film -- that much more compelling ... and maddening. For crying out loud, the cops had this creep seri…

Radio Waves by Jim Ladd

Jim Ladd, longtime L.A. disc jockey, in Radio Waves, writes of the glory days of FM radio from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, when radio playlists were determined by the DJs and not the ratings obsessed program managers and corporate ties concerned only with advertising revenue.

Ladd, long a proponent of what he now terms "free-form radio," recalls the rise and fall of iconic, counter-cultural Los Angeles radio station, KMET (94.7, "BOO-YA,") and how its demise marked the beginning of the end for the West Coast rock 'n roll music industry. Well respected by his peers and musicians, Ladd recounts interviews with the likes of John Lennon, the Eagles, Tom Petty, and Roger Waters, among many others.

The funniest story is his remembrance of the time when he was just getting started in radio, at KNAC in Long Beach in 1969, and how he stepped outside of the studio to smoke a joint and inadvertently locked himself out. Luckily for him, he'd just placed Ir…

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival by Christopher Lukas

Stephen King once wrote that suicide “slithers like a snake off the tongue.” Say the word aloud and hear its venomous hiss.

In his 1938 masterwork on the subject of suicide, Man Against Himself, Karl Menninger spoke of suicide’s stigma in polite society as being "so great ... that some people will not say the word ... a taboo related to strongly repressed emotions. People do not like to think seriously and factually about suicide”.

Should Menninger’s comments describe your own feelings and perspective on this difficult topic, then Christopher Lukas’ beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir, Blue Genes, is not for you. Easy reading it isn't. I didn’t think Blue Genes was for me at first, but to my surprise, discovered as the pages sped past, and I began relating to so much of Lukas' intertwined, complexly enmeshed relationships with his parents and siblings, and their complicated baggage of skeletons, how much it truly was for me.

Christopher Lukas, in Blue Genes has…

The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke

TheDa Vinci Code's got nothing on The Satan Seller in terms of both terrible writing and spurious storytelling. I read this supposed "true" account of a former real life astral projecting satanist, Mike Warnke (I think that's him on the cover and maybe Count Dracula lying down behind him) who was also in league, if you're buying the satanic shtick he's selling, with perhaps the most secret of secret societies, the dreaded (I'm whispering now for melodramatic-sharp-indrawn-breath effect)...Illuminati (oh that dastardly covertly operating Illuminati of Angels and Demons unrighteous priest dismembering infamy) and you'll apprehend an entirely new meaning to the term, "bad".

Cornerstone Magazine, a Christian apologetics periodical, pulled the black robe and scary hoody right off of Warnke in their 1992 expose on him, exposing time line inconsistencies and photographs of a rather clean cut Warnke who should've looked all strung out and long-h…

Roaming Kyrgyzstan: Beyond the Tourist Track by Jessica Jacobson

Should good fortune ever lead me to the distant Asian land of Kyrgyzstan, I hope I'll remember to bring along Jessica Jacobson's compact (yet encyclopedic) travel guide/narrative, Roaming Kyrgyzstan: Beyond The Tourist Track.

Kyrgyzstan's boundaries, a former republic of the U.S.S.R., except for China to its west, are bordered by other hard-to-spell-right "Stans": Tajikistan, to the south & southeast, separating Kyrgyzstan from both Afghanistan & Pakistan; Uzbekistan, to the east; and finally, Kazakhstan, to the north.

Politically, Kyrgyzstan is somewhat of a minor mess, though relatively stable at the moment (minor compared to nations in its proximity) and Jacobson assures the reader she always felt safe and no crimes against the author were reported -- and she lived in Kyrgyzstan for two-and-a-half years.

Geographically, Kyrgyzstan is mostly mountainous. The average elevation of the country lies over 3,000 feet. Peaks regularly rise higher than an…