Friday, July 30, 2004

The "Most Hated Man in Literature" Turns a New Leaf

Time to bury the hatchet - Books -
Dale Peck, literary critic and recipient of the slap heard round New York a few weeks ago, talks to the Sydney Morning Herald on the eve of the publication of his book Hatchet Jobs, about his criticism (more like dismemberment), his take on some of the great writers like Woolf "I mean, did the woman ever see a human being in her life?", Melville and Tolstoy. Peck also discusses his decision to leave Molotov criticism behind him. This may have something to do with the fact that he is writing his own book, which he admits he is having trouble pitching to publishers: "One publisher treated him like a child molester."
Stay tuned.

Remembrance of Writers Past

IHT: Traveling through a writers' America
Fernanda Pivano, the Italian writer and translator best known for being arrested after translating Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, here recalls her first trip to the United States and the writers she met. Read a profile/biography of Pivano here. Pivano later became the translator, friend and champion to Allen Ginsburg and the Beat Poets. She has spent her life championing American literature in Italy and her books and papers can be found at the Biblioteca Pivano in Milan. Visit her official website.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Story Behind The Story of O

The Observer | Review | I wrote the story of O
Fifty years ago, an extraordinary pornographic novel appeared in Paris. Published simultaneously in French and English, Story of O portrayed explicit scenes of bondage and violent penetration in spare, elegant prose, the purity of the writing making the novel seem reticent even as it dealt with demonic desire, with whips, masks and chains.

The author's identity remained a secret until recently. The London Observer reports on the life of the author of this classic of literary pornography, Dominique Aury, a quiet, respected editor at French publisher Gallimard and a recipient of the Légion d'Honneur.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Swedish Crime Writer Henning Mankell Talks about Life and Death

Swede dreams are made of this - General - An insightful in-depth interview with the author of the amusingly dour Kurt Wallender Series which has sold 25 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 19 languages. Mankell divides his time between Sweden where he lives with wife Eva Bergman (daughter of the acclaimed director Ingmar), and his beloved Mozambique where he distributes much of his wealth among AIDS charities and in support of artistic endeavors including a newly formed theater troupe.

Dennis Lehane Talks Mystic

The Harvard Crimson Online :: News
During an appearance at Harvard University, Lehane spoke about the origins of the story for his novel Mystic River
which was made into an Academy Award nominated film in 2003, his thoughts on child abuse (which is an element in the story) and the experience of having his book made into a film.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Fear of Wal-Mart Vaporizes Book Deal Censorship for Dummies 2004-07-21
"Nobody begins his workweek saying, "Gee, I've always wanted to cower before corporate behemoths, induce the resignation of a beloved senior employee, demoralize my staff, and tarnish my company's reputation in the community through censorship But sometimes these things must be done." reports on the decision of publisher John Wiley & Sons to rescind a a deal to publish The Great American Job Scam, about corporate abuse of economic development subsidies. The book includes a chapter on Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer and largest bookseller after Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Fearing Wal-Mart would not take kindly to the book, the publisher had the editor, Johanna Vondeling kill the deal. She did so and then resigned. The Great American Job Scam will be published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers in 2005.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Little Prince Author Mystery Solved

Telegraph | Arts | The other side of the story
The London Telegraph reports that a diver in Marseille has discovered the wreckage of author Antoine de St. Exupéry's Lockheed P-38 fighter plane, which disappeared during a WWII mission in 1943. The find has caused controversy in France, because neither the government nor the wealthy and influential St. Exupéry family want evidence in the wreakage to tarnish the writer's reputation. The evidence confirms the writer, who was an experienced pilot, was not shot down, but rather committed suicide. St. Exupéry was despondent in the months leading to his death due to financial problems, and the fact that he had been accused of being a Nazi sympathizer by DeGaulle and was under surveillance. He would never live to see the success of his classic The Little Prince.

Monday, July 12, 2004

A Caribbean Fairy-tale

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof (Broadway Books, $24.95, 305pp. Hardcover) 
One of the marks of a great read is how much is accomplished with a story. This is a good yarn, a travelogue, a love story, inspirational, informative and gives great food (there are recipies from all over the Caribbean included). It's the perfect summer read.

This is a story of a dream come true. When the author and her husband want to ditch their deadline-driven magazine jobs in Toronto for relaxation in the Caribbean, they don't mean at an all-inclusive resort. They want to sail there in their own boat.

First they have to deal with a couple of tiny obstacles: Sailing skills: rudimentary for her, recreational for him. Neither had the chops for a Toronto to Caribbean jaunt. The boat: they don't have one. Money: how to fund a two-year sojourn away from their jobs?

Calculations lead to a five-year plan (later extended to seven), which allows for planning, saving, sailing lessons and boat-purchasing. There was also plenty of time for re-assuring friends and family who consider the idea of leaving your job and life for two years total insanity.

When they finally sail away from Toronto in the Receta (Spanish for recipe), you're as thrilled as they are, having completed the journey to the journey.

Not only do they successfully sail to and around the Caribbean, they spend every single day of the two years they planned on there, in spite of predictions from friends that the adventure wouldn't last.

From shrimping off the coast of North Carolina to waiting out the weather in Florida before sailing to the Bahamas and beyond, every chapter contains new experiences, friends and delicious descriptions of local dishes, with a new recipe in each chapter. Much too soon, their first year is almost over and they must decide whether they will turn back home or continue. Another list, this time of pros and cons before they decide to continue. The second part of the journey is the toughest and the sweetest.

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Friday, July 02, 2004

Man Trouble

Cassandra French’s Finishing School for Boys by Eric Garcia ($24.95 HarperCollins hardcover 298 pp.)

There’s nothing wrong with Cassandra French that a decade or two in therapy couldn’t cure.

After a lifetime of bad dates inflicted on her by selfish, classless, ignorant and arrogant men, Cassandra snapped. This well-to-do attorney and girl-about-town refused to let another bad date go unpunished. She flipped the script and dumped the offending guy into the trunk of her car (he was drunk), drove home and then shackled him in her basement so she could train him in the art of being a man.

Soon Cassandra has three men in her basement and her lively social life promises more pupils to come. Her cushy job allows her time to come home and prepare lunch for them and check up on their assignments, which include fashion coordinating, problem solving (kind of like those word problems in math class), and learning to lip-synch with abandon.

When she’s not hanging out with her best friend Claire, a TV executive, and their sidekick Lexi, she’s trying to move up the corporate ladder while avoiding a lecherous boss and teaching and taking care of her “boys.”

The apple may not fall far from the tree. Cassandra’s mother is under house arrest for telemarketing fraud, but it’s really her missing husband’s fault. Since she’s forbidden from having a phone when she wants to speak to Cassandra she stops strangers on the street and asks them to call her and tell her to come over.

But of course, things start to go wrong. First, there’s the movie star date that goes sour, then Claire’s psychiatrist/lover dumps her for someone more neurotic, and Lexi’s dogs get impounded and must be rescued. And there’s the matter of the dead body to be disposed of.

This hilarious and felonious satire will have you laughing out loud and chuckling for days afterward.

Eric Garcia is the author of Matchstick Men, which was recently made into a film starring Nicholas Cage. He is also the author of the dinosaur mysteries Anonymous Rex, Casual Rex and Hot and Sweaty Rex. Visit his website at:
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Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Celebration of Latinos on Celluloid

Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood by Clara E. Rodriguez ($26.95 Smithsonian Books, 256 pp. Hardcover)

Latinos are hot in Hollywood today – J.Lo, Michelle Rodriguez, Eva Mendes, Rosario Dawson, Benicio del Toro, Andy Garcia, Jimmy Smits and Antonio Banderas (to name just a few) never had it so good. This is not an accident. Latinos are now the largest minority in the United States, with millions of dollars of disposable income, and the entertainment industry is paying attention.

Latinos have a long history in film, as the author helps us discover. Starting at the beginning of the last century, the author brings scores of Latino actors back into the spotlight, describing their career trajectory, the kinds of roles they played and the political and cultural factors that affected filmmaking at the time.

From the tens to the early thirties, Latinos actors were some of the most successful and sought-after stars in Hollywood. In the silent era Myrtle Gonzalez, Beatriz Michelena and Anita Page (born Pomares) were idols alongside Greta Garbo. Latinos were so hot in the 1920’s that Austrian-born Jacob Krantz landed in Hollywood and changed his name to Ricardo Cortez in order to find work.

During the 30s and 40s, the U.S. wanted to make sure Latin America would remain allies in the impending war and instituted the Good Neighbor Policy of cooperation and friendship. In Hollywood, this meant making lots of films mostly musicals) with well-known Latino actors like Cesar Romero, Carmen Miranda and Lupe Velez. These stars worked steadily and were successful, but never reached the superstardom of actors like Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Cansino in New York) and Anthony Quinn (born Antonio Rudolfo Oaxaca Quinn in Chihuahua, Mexico), both perceived as anglo.

Tying the fate of Latinos in Hollywood closely to the politics of each decade, the author clearly shows the effect of politics on art and artists. Portrayals of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in particular were deeply racist. In the decades after the 1950s, opportunities for Latino actors dried up except for a very few instances and some opportunities in independent film. Many Latino actors chose to work in Europe; some turned to television. In the late 90’s things started to turn around again.

Loads of pictures and gossipy details make this a pleasurable read; historical context and socio-political insights make it educational, and the smooth conversant style make this history supremely readable.

As the Tamale Turns

Caramba! A Tale Told in Turns of the Card, by Nina Marie Martinez (Knopf , $25.95 368p)

Half artifact and half book, this novel pulls us along into the wacky world of Lava Landing, California, where best friends Natalie and Consuelo, all high-heels and vintage clothes, embark on a mission to break Consuelo’s dead father out of purgatory. This is both harder and easier than it seems, as the girls know what needs to be done, but it needs to be done at the site of his death in Mexico, and Consuelo is afraid to travel.

Sprinkled with Spanglish, sporting colored pages, diagrams, pictures, drawings, maps, handwritten letters and replicas of Mexican lotería cards, this book is evidence of the story it relates. The book is a road trip in itself.

But wait, before we join the girls on their adventure we are introduced to the other main characters in Lava Landing: Javier Solís and his Born Again Mariachi Band, his girlfriend Lucha, recently released from prison for drug-dealing; Lulabell, Javier’s mother, who takes lovers like other women take breath mints and decides to auction off her soul; the hairdressing transvestite True-Dee, proprietor of True-Dee’s Tresses, and April May, the ugliest beauty queen to ever hold a title for 9 years straight. Last but not least, there is the history of El Condenado, the volcano that gives the town its name.

Each of the characters has a hurdle to overcome or a goal to achieve and as we follow them around their various pursuits – from saving souls to settling down to creating the perfect hair treatment, this is a carnival ride of a story that goes down like a cool glass of lemonade spiked with a shot of tequila. After you’re done you’ll be refreshed, happy and slightly loopy.

Downtown Noir

Serious as a Heart Attack by Louisa Luna ($23.00 Atria Books, 227 pp.)
The anti-heroine of this blisteringly raw tale is the most original character to hit crime fiction since Lynda La Plante’s Lorraine Page. Queenie Sells is a hard-drinking smart-ass who elicits both disgust and compassion while making you laugh at the same time.

Shortly after loses her job as an editor at a calendar company (yes, there is such a thing) she bumps into an old acquaintance on the subway who offers her the possibility of some quick cash for doing him a favor, and she decides to take him up on his offer. Trouble ensues.

This is a classic noir detective story in the tradition of the greats --- Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, with a twist. The hard-drinking loner “detective” is a woman, the client who rains down trouble on her is not a rich dame with legs from here to there but a clueless rich guy with the same sense of entitlement and a stupidity are so pronounced it’s hard to keep from smacking him in the head.

Things get complicated when Queenie becomes the prime suspect in a murder and her friend wants another favor. There are two guys following her, and neither of them are cops.

Swigging everything from beer to Margaritas to Jack Daniel’s, Queenie doggedly pursues the truth (even when she has to pull her day’s wardrobe out of the dirty laundry) in order to evade arrest. Traveling from her Lower East Side home base to El Barrio to the Upper East Side, The Four Seasons and The Waldorf-Astoria, Queenie wise-cracks her way through the mayhem.

The dark humor here is broken by a couple of moments of breath-taking poignancy mostly in flashback which display the author’s serious talent. We’re left wanting more of Queenie and more of Louisa Luna.

Uptown Noir

Blood Red Blues, by Teddy Hayes (Kate’s Mystery Books/Justin, Charles & Co. 192 pp. $12.99 paperback original)

From the sex and violence-soaked opening scene you know that noir is back with a vengeance. This is the first in a new series of mysteries set in Harlem featuring Devil Barnett, a former CIA operative who returns to the neighborhood after his father’s death.
Barnett’s plan is to quietly continue running his father’s bar, the Be-Bop Tavern, but when the police come calling in the form of Deke Robinson, a corrupt local politician, and ask him to help in solving the murder of a Japanese diplomat at another Harlem club, try as he might, he can’t stay out of it.

What does a horny diplomat have to do with Harlem real estate? Why are the Asian gangs so interested in his investigation? What does all this have to do with his uncle’s new romance? Barnett combines his CIA skills with his neighborhood connections to find out between dodging a decidedly homicidal attacker.

Along the way he has to deal with pimps, whores, informants, Asian gangsters, beautiful women and oh yeah, the cops. You can smell the whisky and cigarette smoke and hear the music. This is a hard-boiled but loving look at contemporary Harlem.

Getting the Good Life

La Vida Rica: The Latina’s Guide to Success by Yrma Rico and Nancy Garascia ($18.95 McGraw-Hill 218 pp. Hardcover)

Yrma Rico started out as a migrant farm worker picking fruit in the California sun and made it to the executive suite as co-founder of the multi-million dollar media company Entravision. “But luck had nothing to do with it,” she writes, “From childhood, my thought was always that I could do better than I was doing.

Using anecdotes from her own life and an enthusiasm that blazes off the page, Rico lays out a series of realistic steps and techniques to help ambitious Latinas manage their careers, money and families, and achieve dreams, whatever they may be.

Whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or stuck in a job you can’t stand just to pay the bills, whether you’ve hit the glass ceiling or if your dream house remains an impossible dream, this book will help you get to the next level.

Many Latinas are taught to put family first, and Rico addresses this in a section describing the unique “roadblocks” Latinas face in trying to achieve success and how to overcome them. She provides examples on how to turn culture into an asset in the workplace, and how to give back to the community.

This is not a platitude-filled self-help book – there is a treasure trove of real-life techniques and solutions to handle real world situations in and out of the workplace, from someone who has used them and succeeded. By the time you finish this, you’ll want to conquer the world.

Dialing up Death


Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John Douglas with Stephen Singular ($7.99 Pocket Star Books, 397pp. paperback)

Before your next foray into a chat room or online dating read this frightening account of a man who slipped through the cracks of the justice system for years. By the time the law caught up with him he had defrauded dozens of businessmen and investors of hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment schemes. He was suspected in the deaths of 11 women, six of whom were eventually found dead in metal barrels on his property. They had been there for years, some over a decade.

Although the book suffers from a dry, plodding, just-the-facts-ma’am style, the facts themselves are compelling enough. John Robinson went from eagle scout to family man to con artist to pimp and serial killer with surprising ease. How did Robinson continually defraud small companies, big corporations (like Mobil Oil) and individuals and never do time? He spent twenty years pulling cons before he ever spent a day in jail, and by that time he had already been connected to several missing women. There were a lot of suspicions, but no proof of anything.

When he got out of jail he was a full-fledged computer geek. The cons gave way to internet chat rooms, where Robinson met numerous women whom he tried to convince to meet him in Kansas City where he lived. He promised them jobs and apartments and told them he would take care of them. With one exception, every woman who made the journey wound up dead. One victim had moved to Kansas City with her disabled teenaged daughter and Robinson murdered them both.

The story is disturbing on two levels: first of course, the actions of Robinson himself, who seemed to be a dedicated family man, active in his community and a doting parent and grandfather by day, and a stark raving predator by night. Actually it was the other way around; his wife of 30+ years maintained she never had any idea of his double life because he was always home by 5 p.m. He did all his dirty work during the day. Equally disturbing is the failure of law enforcement to connect the dots sooner. Even after the disappearance of two women connected to him, police did rudimentary investigations and dropped the matter for lack of evidence. Letters from the missing women that seem to be forgeries are never even examined (fingerprints, DNA). Any armchair detective would have taken the matter further.

This compelling story raises two questions which are never adequately answered. The first is the nature of the killer’s psyche, a man so effectively divided that he is practically a split personality. There is a brief analysis of his character, but it adds no depth to the portrait of the killer. It would have been useful to hear from a criminal psychologist on the matter.

Voulez-vous Mourir?

Murder in the Bastille by Cara Black ($24.00 Soho Press 276 pp. hardcover)

No good deed goes unpunished, goes the saying, and for Aimee Leduc that’s an understatement. She’s in a restaurant when she notices that the woman at the next table (who’s wearing the same jacket she is) left her cell phone at the table. She rushes out to give it to her and next thing she knows she’s in a hospital. The good news is that she’s alive. The bad news is she’s blind from the beating. It could be worse: the other woman was found dead.

Aimee barely pauses long enough to acknowledge her blindess (at first) before calling her business associate Rene to her side and applying her investigative skills to the case. To keep hysteria at bay, she goes after the facts like a heat-seeking missile, despite the fact someone may still be trying to kill her.

The police are intent on blaming the attack on the Beast of the Bastille, a serial killer with the same M.O., but Aimee isn’t so sure. She isn’t even sure she was the intended victim. There are a slew of suspects and the sexy Parisien mystique to make it all even more compelling.

This is the fourth Aimee Leduc mystery. For more information about the series, go to