I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Atmospheric ghosts, dark forces, and wild turkeys

February 19 to 26, 1976, I read:

Solemn High Murder, Barbara Ninde Byfield

The Early Pohl, Frederik Pohl

February 19 to 26, 2006, I read:

Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Cherie Priest
A very well-written, atmospheric, literally haunting book. One problem I had was that the heroine had a major case of don’t-do-up-in-the-attic-itis. For example, with a homicidal maniac stalking her, she heads straight for the cemetery after dark. I realize that that’s where the plot needs her to be, but for me, it got a little predictable. Where’s the most dangerous, isolated possible place? I think I’ll go there—alone—at night!

It held my interest but never really scared me much—which is fine. I should say that I don’t exactly read ghost stories to be frightened, as I know some people do. Well, maybe to be frightened just a little tiny bit…

The author has an interesting web site at--

Final Intuition, Claire Daniels

More on the whimsical fun than frightening front is the fourth and final book in Claire Daniels' Cally Lazar series. In the interests of disclosure I should say that Claire Daniels is also my dear friend, Jaqueline Girdner, who wrote the Kate Jasper mystery series. I was interested to catch up on the latest adventures of her amateur sleuth, a New Age bio-energy balancing healer. Cally's boyfriend, Roy, is either crazy or really does see dangerous dark forces swirling around her. Aside from the final truth about these dark forces, there are always fun witty things in Jaki/Claire's books. I know of no other author who would bring on wild turkeys wandering through the yard oblivious of both murder and Thanksgiving. The Turkey Sisters are shadowed, although never approached, by a lone male turkey. Very Dashiell Hammett in a cozy mystery kind of way—I mean if Hammett used large, wild turkeys for actors and actresses (which might be kind of fun actually--never mind, Jaki/Claire's work has that effect on me).

More about Claire/Jaki and other unexpected treasures at--

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An imperfect escape is better than no escape at all

February 10 to 18, 1976 I read,

The Catnappers, P.G. Wodehouse
It's hard to remember that 30 years ago I was catless and the word "cat" was pretty much neutral. No recollection of this Wodehouse. I keep meaning to read more. Whenever I see odd sentences quoted from him, they glitter with a wit that beckons.

The Black Tower, P.D. James
This was one of my favorite P.D. James mysteries, and I later read it again at least twice.

Chief! Al Seedman (my notes say “as told to Hellman” NYPD Chief)
I found this description on abe.com (the comprehensive online used books source)
"The distillation of perhaps the country's largest private crime archives -- the personal journals Albert Seedman kept throughout his career as Chief of Detectives of NYPD."

February 10 to 18, 2006, in between other work and getting my tax materials together, I escaped a few times to read:

The Loves of a D-Girl: A Novel of Sex, Lies, and Script Development, Chris Dyer
A “movie business in New York chick lit” novel told in entirely in the present tense—I guess to give the idea of a screenplay—“she stops reading. She puts down the book,” etc. Used judiciously this can heighten tension. Used for the entire book this can become irritating, and did.

Urban Shaman, C.E. Murphy
Comparisons to Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake vampire executioner series are unavoidable, even though the bad supernatural critters faced by the heroine, Joanne Walker, are on the Celtic side, more like those in Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry faery series. There are some interesting elements here. Walker is half Irish, half Cherokee and an awakening shaman--also a reluctant cop and a gifted auto mechanic. Reluctant cop? Hmmm. I don’t even read too many police procedurals, but I had trouble swallowing the way that the entire Seattle Police Department bends over backwards to keep Walker on the job so as to get free car repair! But the story and the heroine held my interest, and I’d read other books by this author.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Assorted flavors of numb & lies like ice cream

February 7 to 10, 1976 I read:

The House on Garibaldi Street, Isser Harel
The story of the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina by the Mossad, Israel's secret intelligence service. Harel was the leader of the team that brought Eichmann to Israel for trial. Fascinating book—updated and still in print.

The Santaroga Barrier, Frank Herbert
In some ways I like some of Herbert's lesser know books better than Dune, and definitely better than the sequels to Dune.

You Can Get There from Here, Shirley MacLaine
I like Shirley MacLaine (I was going so say "so shoot me" but I never use that expression anymore...the times we live in.)

Best SF '74

Clive: Inside the Record Business, Clive Davis James Willwerth
I obviously hadn't heard of Clive Davis because my note reads "some record tycoon."

The Intruders, Pat Montandon
This scary book was hard to track down, seeming to have vanished into book limbo. I remember this story of a haunted Lombard Street apartment. Even in the 1960s and '70s you didn't just leave a prime San Francisco apartment like that because of a little psychic disturbance. Finally I found a web page about it!

February 7 to 10, 2006:

Two books I read this week have unexpected elements in common. Lost Souls and A Million Little Pieces both seem to be first novels with lots-o-drugs, cynical, suicidal youth and shaky redemption at the end. No vampires or homoerotic scenes in Frey though…

As a kind of weird segue, I have been imagining that some of the 1988 teenage drugged-out runaways in Lost Souls might end up 16 years later in the rehab unit where James Frey sets his story—and yes I know the controversy is about how much of Frey is true, and I will get to that.

Lost Souls, Poppy Z. Brite
This is the second Brite book I've read (a few months back I read her second book, Drawing Blood). Lost Souls came out in 1988 and I could see how it made an impact, there wasn't anything out there that I've ever heard of then that resembled it.

Like so many first novels, it is a Sensitive Story of Disillusioned Youth. Only it also has vampires, romanticized homoeroticism with teenage boys as the focus of lust, sex & drugs & rock & roll, graphic gore and bodily fluids, murder, rape, cannibalism and incest. Oddly enough, these amenities—though not my usual choice of story elements—did not bother me. I think it's because the characters were engaging, vulnerable and so very numb.

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
Speaking of numb. The main character starts out the book starts out semi-comatose.

What do I think about James Frey's work?

It ain't William Burroughs, or even Augusten Burroughs. The no-quotes dialog and paragraphs-jammed-together style does convey the flattened emotions of the main character (or of his recollections, if we're thinking of this as Frey himself). But it's a very tedious form to maintain for hundreds of pages and for me that made it more difficult to keep reading.

In Frey's case, his lies, like the web spun by a con artist, fitted neatly into a very popular view about drugs and rehabilitation. The myths are—anyone can fall prey to drugs—even those who "have everything" and anyone can claw his way back to normalcy. There's some truth in these myths. The lies are in the packaging and the amplification of the fall.

James Frey was irresistible to Oprah and company literally because he was not the scary bad boy he played on television and in his book. I'm sure there was never a sense that he might fall off the wagon and be found passed out among empty liquor bottles in an alley behind the TV studio. There are many genuine survivors in recovery from drugs and lives of crime, some of them probably have written books. But their stories don't go down like ice cream. Their damaged faces and bodies show real, permanent scars.

Frey presents an irresistible Ivy League educated, fresh-faced package, the (much enhanced, and in some cases perhaps "borrowed") stories of a down and dirty addiction, tough guy encounters with cops and criminals, and eventual recovery.

The myth went down like ice cream. And now people are reading the label on the package.

I read this book after the story came out about how Frey stretched the truth for this "memoir" so there's no way I could say whether I would have guessed the fraud if I'd read it earlier. A friend who worked in a mental institution said the author photo confirmed for her that this guy could not have suffered the kind of battering he describes in the book and avoided permanent, visible facial scarring (also that the dental work without novocaine incident was unlikely in the extreme).

The phrase "a bullshit artist" came to mind, but after reading most of the book (I skipped some because that no punctuation thing can get really tedious) I'd say he's on the border between B.S. and crap by Hanne Blank's definition--link to her essay below.

Crap is what makes you throw the book across the room in disgust, while bullshit is the occupational hazard of the professional liar (a.k.a. fiction writer).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Charming echoes, books that require hip boots and gloves, books by mail

I was definitely having more fun 30 years ago this week!

January 30, 1976 to February 6, 1976, I read:

Hollywood, Garson Kanin
Online I found a comment about a scene in this book Kanin witnessed where a young Lawrence Olivier chatted with Greta Garbo at a party and then reenacted the conversation on the drive home for a suspicious Vivien Leigh. That really was memorable and charming, and it stuck in my memory also.

A Purple Place for Dying, John D. MacDonald
The Mystery Writer's Art, Nevin, Ed
The Worlds of Frank Herbert (surprisingly good anthology)
The Deep Blue Goodbye, John D. MacDonald

January 30 to February 6, 2006

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, Greg Critser

I had meant to look this book up when I researched books with the three letter F-word in the title for my web page essay

The book turned out to be quite insulting to fat people. Malarial mosquitoes probe more deeply and with less of an agenda than this so-called objective reporter uses in this book. I ranted on a bit on that at the end of this post, but feel free to skip if you're not in the mood.

First, on a positive note. Because it was borrowed, I didn't pay money to be insulted by Fat Land! I borrowed this book from a service called http://www.booksfree.com/ (this is a spontaneous, unpaid endorsement!) Booksfree.com does for paperback book lovers what Netflix does for DVD lovers—a real find for those of us who can't easily get to a library.

Optional Rant mode activated—

I was hoping that Fat Land would provide some useful information about some of the ingredients in highly processed foods such as trans fats and high fructose corn syrup—which seem to be to be health-damaging additives. [As it happens that information is much more objectively covered in Fat Politics, The Real Story Behind America's Obesity Epidemic, by J. Eric Oliver—a book I am reading with care so as to review on my web page.]

Alas, Critser begins by discussing his recent "successful" diet! I have two things to say about that:

First, I am saddened by our current cultural climate where anything expressed by a thinner person is somehow more valid and valuable than anything expressed by that same person 40 pounds heavier. This is prejudice. Pure and simple.

Second, I am angered by the contempt that infects Critser's every paragraph. His is not an unusual attitude but I experience rage afresh each time I see a "formerly fat person" who feels entitled to beat up on fat people "for our own good."

One Amazon.com reviewer pointed out that this author seemed to think he could shame people into losing weight. Sadly a whole raft of others chimed in about how the "refreshing slap in the face" this book delivered will help them lose weight. As this is a future, and uncertain event, these testimonials only point up the sad state of self-abasement that flourishes around issues of body size.

Nothing the book has to offer would alleviate the stress, or compensate me for the time wasted in reading it. However, I toyed with the thought of going through it to compare some of Critser's more superficial conclusions with those drawn by Paul Campos in The Obesity Epidemic or the aforementioned J. Eric Oliver's Fat Politics. But that would mean spending more time with the book, and even stopping early on, it took some effort to clear off the sticky coating of hatred from anything it might have touched while the book was still in my hands.

And yeah, I guess this rant was part of that process, and I say anyone who has read this far, as I say to the accommodating white page in front of me--thanks for listening.