Monday, December 6, 2010

Those Terrorist Cats

A lot of you know that I have a soft spot for cats. Persians to be precise.GooGoo-07 Raised them for years and used to go to shows. My cats still go to shows, but being blind, I kind of get lost looking for the concession stands. But, I have ‘cat’ friends who take my cats to the shows and still stay in touch with a lot of cat people.

Just this weekend there was a show here in Portland and I sent two of my girls. A friend who shows a different breed than Persians shared the following story in an email this evening, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

See, times are tough, even amongst people that still pursue this hobby. So, she took her two cats to the show hall, and found out that parking near the Rose Garden was $8.00 a day! So, being the thrifty person she is she decided to park across the busy  four lane road in a shopping mall. She diligently read the sign that said ‘Complimentary 4 Hour Free Parking for Mall Customers’. So, she decided that if she went in and grabbed a latte from ’that place’ she’d at least be technically a mall customer. She was even thoughtful enough and dedicated enough to go move her car every 4 hours.Somali Cat

All went well Saturday, and she even did some Christmas shopping at the mall after the show Saturday and had another over priced coffee before the show Sunday. But that is where the happy story ends.

She came out of the show Sunday, around 4:00 pm, had her cats and all the paraphernalia that cat people haul around to show, carriers, combs, corn starch (does marvels if your cat has an accident) shampoo, brushes,anti static spray, “Summers Eve” feminine hygiene spray, which believe me is used for even bigger accidents and is a cat show persons secret weapon, and to quote Arlo Guthery, other implements of destruction.…she had all this loaded on a little four wheeled cart and secured by bungee cords so she could cross the street safely. She makes it across the street and approaches her Toyota Sienna Van-brand new and perfect for hauling all your cat show stuff.sienna

I remember talking to her when she bought it and suggesting the vanity plate (a pun in itself) of CAT BOX. Well, she couldn’t get that plate but she did pick out a great vanity plate. You see, she shows and breeds Somalis, like the reddish fellow upstairs on the right. By the way, she got a great deal on this van from another cat friend who works for the Toyota dealer in Corvallis, OR. She has even managed to find stickers, like you see saying “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” only these are of Somali cats. I think it’s terrible to put bumper stickers or any other stickers on a car, especially a new car, but you know these crazy cat ladies….

You probably haven’t been able to miss the story all over the news about the young American student that went to school at Oregon State…in Corvallis. The one who was born in Somalia and with the assistance of the FBI managed to plant a dud bomb near Portland's Pioneer Court House 

I’m sure you can see what’s coming. My friend gets back to her car. A van, with the Somali Vanity plate and the dealer license plate frame from Corvallis Toyota. She is immediately surrounded by 5 mall security vehicles and officers with there guns out. Right behind them is two squad cars from the local PD. She immediately cops to beating the $8.00 a day parking at the Rose Quarter, but explains that the sign wasn’t excluding others from parking, and besides she had her coffee cup still proving she was a legitimate mall customer. Give them credit, they didn’t have the bomb disposal van there. They demanded to search her van. So, she opens the back and besides the cat toys, cat beds and other cat items, she has a box of plastic 1 gallon mason jar type containers of detangler. They all stepped way back and conferred in hushed voices. Believe me, we spend more of cosmetics and toiletries for these cats than we do on ourselves. She finally caught on to why she was getting all this attention and asked point blank (pun again intended) if it was because of her license plate. They said, “Well, yeah.” so she proceeded to open one of the pet carriers and show them the cat and the ribbons proving it was a Somali cat. They had another conference and finally let her go on her way with a stern warning about how not to look suspicious. One even suggested she think about a different vanity plate.

A few weeks ago this may have just been a funny story. I may have even been a bit proud that law enforcement was so serious about public safety, but now….I’m not too sure.


The Dirty Lowdown

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hard Boiled Noir

Hard Boiled Noir 001So, just finished reading ‘Dan Brown’s’ The Lost Symbol, Which I’ll be doing a review on shortly. Enjoyable read. Whole story takes place in about 10 hours, which makes you think, in retrospect, that the characters are ready for a marathon and will damn sure win it. Definitely big screen ready and Hollywood bound. It’s very  involved and will have you Googling  to see if he’d left any possible conspiracy theory untouched. But, this isn’t about that.

This is about violence and sex (not at the same time….usually). Rye whiskey and fedoras. It’s about characters with tough attitudes. Cool, cocky, flippant and cynical one liners. It’s about dirty cities at night. I wanted Terry Mack and Race Williams. Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. Characters nearly beyond redemption. So, I went to the shelves, let’s see I’ve got Cain and Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Walter Mosley (one of the best ‘modern’ noir authors and an American treasure). I’ve got Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Williams, Chester Himes, Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and even  Elmore Leonard. But I had recently read Leonards', When the Women Come Out to Dance. Hammett and Chandler are a bit too familiar as I am always rereading them and still love the short pulp stories. Recently reread most of Walter Mosley’ EZ Rawlins books-always fun and I always find something new. The others, though admirable and true to the genre, just were quiet there. Then I found James Ellroy Because The Night. I had forgotten I even had this! Cat’s must have knocked it down behind the book shelf. It was next to an empty bottle of Thunderbird wine and a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes with a book of matches displaying an anonymous phone number for some one named ‘Dixie’. Lip stick on the corner and hearts in place of the ‘dots’ over the ‘I’s’ in Dixie. There’s the advertisement for an All-Nite Bail Bondsman on the cover.

This is written before Ellroy became the "Demon Dog of American crime fiction." before he had fully developed that postmodern historiographic metafiction, staccato, no-verbs allowed style.

Because The Night is the second in the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy. Lloyd Hopkins, a LAPD detective with almost as many flaws as admirable traits. He has an very high IQ., is a sex addict classic womanizer and sometimes feels entitled to break the law in order to right wrongs. In short, Lloyd is the classic hard boiled, noir, character. Just what the doctor ordered after Lost Symbol.

Here’s a taste:

Lloyd laughed. “Nice pad, Linda. Out of the low-rent district.” Linda feigned a return laugh. “Don’t be formal, call me suspect.” Lloyd stuck his hand in his jacket pocket and pulled out snapshots of Thomas Goff and Jungle Jack Herzog. He handed them to Linda and said, “Okay, suspect, have you seen either of these men before?”Linda looked the photos over and returned them to Lloyd. There was not the slightest flicker of recognition in her eyes or her hands-on-hips pose. “No. What’s this about Stan Rudolf? Are you with Vice?” Lloyd sat down in the easy chair and stretched his legs. “That’s right. What’s the basis of your relationship with Rudolph?” Linda’s eyes went cold. Her voice followed. “I think you know. Will you state your purpose, ask your questions, and get out?” Lloyd shook his head. “What do you know?” “That you’re no fucking Vice Cop!” Linda shouted. “You got a snappy come back for that?” Lloyd[‘s voice was his softest; the voice he saved for his daughters. “Yeah. You’re no hooker.” Linda sat down across from him. “Everything in this apartment calls you a liar.” “I’ve been called worse than that,” Lloyd said. “Such as?” “Some of the choicer shots have included ‘urban barracuda,’ ‘male chauvinist porker,’ ‘fascist cocksucker,’ ‘wasp running dog,’ and ‘pussy hound scumbag.’ I appreciate articulate invective. ‘Motherfucker’ and ‘pig’ get to be boring.” Linda Wilhite laughed and poked a finger at Lloyd’s wedding ring. “You’re married. What does your wife call you?” “Long distance.” “What?” “We’re separated.” “Serious splitsville?” “I’m not sure. It’s been a year and she’s got a lover, but I intend to out last the bastard.”

Classic noir, from the pessimistic worldview to the jazz slang, cop patois, and creative profanity. It’s even got a ‘mad scientist’ …okay, mad psychiatrist as a bad guy and is filled with dirty cops dirty tabloid journalists and more irredeemable characters than you could find in South Centrals drunk tank on a Saturday night. I’ll have to look under the book case more often. Maybe I’ll call Dixie.

The Dirty Lowdown

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Decision Points," G.W. Bush

"To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself."-Shakespeare's Macbeth

Details With those words, Macbeth tells us that to judge ones impact on history you need to be a little bit blind as to what that impact was. The former president took these words to heart in ‘Decision Points’. The Presidents memoir was released yesterday and though I haven’t read it in it’s entirety, I did manage to get through a few key chapters. I’ve  also read reviews and responses from both sides of the Atlantic from some of the other world leaders that are key characters in this account.

The first thing that comes to mind is clueless. There is an alarming off-handedness about the implications of what's being said. About the unfolding financial crisis at the end of his presidency. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About the use of “enhanced interrogation” better known as torture.

The book is surprising in the fact that apparently it is not ghost written but is an unexpectedly engrossing memoir. But, you quickly get the feeling that reality and his memory are two different animals. For instance, he states, "Their interrogations ( of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport, and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States," British officials have said there is no evidence to support this claim. The Heathrow alert in fact happened a month before his (Mohammed’s) arrest. In fact, British Counter-Terrorism officials have said that the most useful information provided by Mohammed was mainly related to al-Qaida's structure and was not extracted under torture.

Later on Bush writes that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told him in January 2002 that the US president had his full support when it came to his aggressive Iraq policy. Bush wrote that Schröder indicated he would even stand behind Bush should the US go to war against the country. Gerhard Schröder has said that George W. Bush is not telling the truth.

On the other hand, he does sound sincere when he talks about his decision to stop drinking, and when he talks about his religion. But then he blows it when he goes on to present his anti-abortion stance and how he adamantly had to “convince Pope John Paul II not to waver in his pro-life convictions.” Uh huh, gotcha…..

You are left with the feeling that Bush, like Macbeth, need not know himself to judge himself. He constantly seems shocked and disappointed at the many failures of his presidency; Not finding WMD’s in Iraq, the financial melt down, the failure to capture bin Laden, leaked identities of CIA operatives, but then he turns around and blames these failure on others. Indeed, he judges his biggest failure in his administrations response to Hurricane Katrina. And his biggest accomplishment as “After the nightmare of September 11, America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil.” So, to summarize, in his own eyes and words, his failure was in not dealing correctly with an act of god, and his fait accompli was in what terrorists didn’t do…..

I guess reality really is subjective.


The Dirty Lowdown

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Old Boys-Charles McCarry

Old BoysHave you ever read about some guy, dragged into a Good Will store by his wife and buys an old painting that ends up hanging in his garage for decades until somebody recognizes it as a “lost master piece"?

That’s how I feel about Charles McCarry and ‘Old Boys’. Picked this up in the Dollar Store while waiting for a price check….This is the most enthralling and intelligent “Spy Novel” novel I have read in years. Certainly the best American Spy novel and for my money, it and McCarry rank up there with John Le Carré in a select class of two.

First, a bit about the author. After writing for Stars and Stripes during World War II and working as a small-town newspaperman, McCarry was a CIA agent in the 1950s and 60’s in Europe, Asia and Africa and also a speech writer for the Eisenhower administration. He has lived in Washington, D.C., Florida and the Berkshires, rubbing tweed elbows with the powerful and the not so powerful. McCarry was editor-at-large for National Geographic and has contributed pieces to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other national publications.

In the early 70’s he started writing his spy novels featuring ‘super spy’, Paul Christopher. Mysteriously, despite praise, from giants like Richard Condon, John Gardner, Tom Wicker, George V. Higgins,Christopher Buckley and Eric Ambler, McCarry's work never achieved popular success, and most of his novels had shamefully gone out of print. This was rectified by Overlook Press who started reprinting his novels in 2005. Apparently, they were a bit more successful the second time around and after 5 novels between 1973 and 1983 in this genre, he quit. He came back in 1988 with a historical fiction exploring the Christopher Family in the 17th century. Then he disappeared again until 1991’s Second Sight and then again in ‘95 with a sequel to ‘79’s The Better Angels Shelley's Heart . Then he dropped off the radar until Overlook started the reprints and in ‘05 he wrote Old Boys.

Okay, in Old Boys, Paul Christopher has apparently gone back to China, where he was imprisoned for 10 years, in search of his mother who disappeared in WWII with a Nazi Party Higher up. He hasn’t seen her in close to 40 years or more. Paul is reported dead, having rode a horse off a cliff in Xingjian province while on the quest. Enter Horace Hubbard, his cousin and also a former spook. Despite Paul’s funeral in Arlington, Horace doesn’t believe that Paul is dead. Neither does Paul’s daughter, Zarah. He enlists the help of a number of old colleagues', all now retired. And the hunt is on. The story from here entails a lot of globe trotting, a mysterious Scroll, supposedly carried by Paul’s Mother that was found on an ancient Roman ship wreck that would seem to relate how a Roman functionary ran an unsuspecting spy named Joshua Ben Joseph of Galilee during the time of Christ, with the help of a Roman citizen named Paulus of Tarsus. Paul's mother has carried this scroll for 50 years or more, first protecting it from Nazi’s, the Communist Soviets and now by a bin Laden type character, Ibn Awad who wants the scroll to discredit Christianity. Ibn Awad also has come into possession of some ‘lost Soviet’ suit case type nukes. The plot is almost indescribable, involving a Muslim terrorists, Soviet nuclear bombs; a Chinese forced-labor camp and a bad guy commie who may turn out to be a good guy; sundry ex-Nazis, ex-KGB men and double-crossers galore. Throw in a history of Falconry, a NASA satellite used to map the migratory patterns of the Houbura Bustard, and some Russian Mobsters and this can’t help but fail.

But it doesn’t.

It's a great tribute to McCarry's skill that he manages to keep all these balls in the air and carry the reader willingly with him making the story thoroughly believable, entertaining and real.

Understand that McCarry is not concerned with the tongue-in-cheek derrings-do of superheroes on the order of James Bond but with realistic character studies of complex human beings under stress and the interaction of different cultures and the characters that inhabit those cultures.

Add to this story line, a historian's concern for the 20th century and an elegant prose style that renders time and place with a sensuous atmosphere enriched by years of travel, and you've got all aspects of the master novelist. Note that I did not say "spy novelist." McCarry is writing more than genre literature. He is writing literature with a capital "L." whatever that is.

After having read what I thought was everything and everybody on the planet over the past 50 years or so, I somehow missed McCarry his first time around, which apparently so did the rest of the world. Now I have at least 8 novels that are at the top of my list, I do believe Old Boys makes it very high on my personal list of the decades best books and enjoyable reads. Find this, and McCarry’s other novels, you won’t regret it.


The Dirty Lowdown

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Go in grace my brother, Steve Bennett

On the journey through life you make many friends and acquaintances. Maybe you lived next door to each other growing up. Maybe went to school, or were in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts together. You might have played ball on the same team or even just in the same league. Maybe you both swam at the ‘Y’. You might of met at college or in the service or in a bar at happy hour and eventually you have dinner at each others house, or you celebrate each others birthday with a night out. You might get together with your spouses and play cards, have bar-b-cues in each others back yard and, anyway, you call each other friend. A lot of what makes you friends is, well, you can tolerate each other and people are social beings so you do.

One day, something might happen and you say, “What the hell did I ever see in that person?” And, well, you were never friends in the first place. At most, acquaintances. Co workers. Team mates. Neighbors. But not lay-down-my-life for you friends.

But at points in your life you meet true friends. Brothers. Sisters. If not in blood, then by shared experience, similar values, maybe you both share the same cynical out-look on life. Maybe you have the same ideals or a similar sense of humor…or sense of the absurd. There’s that something that makes you able to look at each other and know what the other one is thinking, feeling, going through and you become brothers as sure as blood.

About a year ago, on Facebook, I was searching for old acquaintances. Men and women I knew from southern California, the Antelope Valley back in the early 80’s.  This was a neat time for me. I was just out of the military after nearly ten years and was learning how to be a citizen again. I met some of the coolest, most memorable folks. Musicians, teachers, bar tenders, co-workers. People that 30 years later I still thought about often.  And I found some of them. Some had changed, some were the same but it was fun catching up and sharing what we remembered of each other thirty years later.

Through these old friends or acquaintances I met other people that were doing the same, or knew the same folks. Facebook was great, I mean ideas were bouncing around, , years relived, memories shared.

And I met a brother or two. I’d love to be able to go back and ‘cut and paste’ that first exchange. I probably started between Dennis Vogt and I. Dennis is one of those friends met through an acquaintance. Turns out he’s nearly as big a smart ass as I. He also plays drums, and I’m a bass player. Another brother.

Dennis and I would throw out pieces of poetry, or items from the news and riff on them. For you non-musicians, riffing is a special kind of music. One musician states an idea in musical terms, and the next guy just kind of ad libs the next part. When you share a symbiosis, or when you are on the same wave-length, it’s a kind of magic. We did this with whatever struck our fancy., like I said. stories, quotes from authors, musicians, absurd current events. Nothing was sacred. Everything was sacred. And in popped Steve Bennett. Didn’t know him from Adam, but he knew someone that knew someone, and before you could say, Oh, geez, we were off. It was like Laurel met Hardy, or Robin Williams met Steven Wright. Maybe Moe met Curly, or Hemmingway met Bob Dylan met Charles Bukowski. Pretty soon we had some of the longest threads, the three of us.

And we found out in short order that we had more in common than a bent sense of humor, a cynical attitude, a modicum of intelligence, and a feel for the justice all men deserve or even shared geography.  All three of us had health problems. Steve was fighting cancer, or as cancer became known, Bubba. We’d take Bubba behind the barn for a little face time. Steve didn’t get chemo, he poisoned Bubba. We beat the shit out of Bubba so often that pretty soon there must have been one hundred. Two hundred people between all our friends lists that beat Bubba to a pulp. We ran Bubba over with cars and trains and Army tanks. Pretty soon, there wasn’t a one of us that thought Bubba stood a chance. Steve stopped thinking about it, except for the checkups. And we riffed, man did we riff. Funny, smart stuff that was the sum of three minds coming together and it was magic.More than one person wanted to capture our threads and publish them as a book. And, you know what. It was grand. Steve was who made it grand. That dry sense of humor. That quick quiet wit. His insights and observations. His jokes.

One day he talked to me about writing. He had some stories to tell. I am reinventing myself as a writer, seeing as how there isn’t much call for blind engineers, and he told me he wanted to try his hand at something…different. He didn’t come right out and say, ‘I want to write.’ He made me tell him, ‘man, you should write.’ And so he did. I’d started a blog as a way to make myself write and as a place to put what I wrote. He asked me questions about how to do the same and I answered him the best I could, and he did it. Steve’s Space and I remember the first story. It was pretty autobiographical. A story about the night his son, Ben was born and him trying to get his wife, Sharran to a hospital in a snow storm in West Germany in 1971 so that Ben could get born. The story is full of bad luck, good luck, bad planning and great planning gone wrong. It was a comedy of errors and you can read it on Steve’s site, just scroll down to the March 5th entry.  It is full of all those things that make a great story, especially the ability to laugh at ones self. It wasn’t great literature, just that American gift of a great honest story.

The only other story he posted, although he talked to me about many, was I Got Into an Argument the Other Night.....which was posted a couple weeks later. I was wowed. Here is a story of a man with morals and values and he tries, as most of us have done at one time or another to impart those values to another, not so enlightened person. This leads to a terrible crime and and even more terrible personal tragedy and in the end, the main character betrays those same values.

When you read this, and I urge everyone to read this story, you may notice some grammatical mistakes. You may notice some loss of flow, some almost dead ends. It isn’t polished. But it is a great, thought provoking story by a man who thought it out well. I am still awed by this story. It was obvious that by learning a little, oh so little ‘story craft’ that Steve was going to be a great story teller. He had the gift.

We talk an awful lot about writing and personal values. About people and we shared jokes. We talked about the music that moved us, the books that did the same.We both loved “the smell of absurdity in the morning.” We shared the personal struggles with our health. We shared family stories. Man, he was proud of his family. Sharran was his personal hero, and he is so damn proud of his son, Ben. Over a few short months we became closer than blood. Last spring I thought I was going to be able to make a trip, and I wanted to sit across a table from Steve Bennett and just celebrate life. Talk in person about all those things that made us smile. That made us cry. He talked with me long hours about dealing with my loss of sight. And he celebrated the memories of the things I couldn’t do anymore, that I used to live for and how to go on living. And when we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore, he’d ‘close the clam shell’ and get some sleep. That clam shell I always took to be him closing the top on his laptop for the night. It was interesting to see other friends think it was something else. Hell, I don’t know what that clam shell really was, but it became a metaphor for getting old and tired. It also became a metaphor for getting up the next day and doing something of value, like tell a story.

A few months ago Bubba came back to town, but Steve just figured he needed his ass kicked again. So did we. He gave us that faith. Bubba might have “been a contender” once, but he was a has been now. It was more Bubba poisonings and Bubba docs and Bubba treatments and he treated it like it was training for a fight. I admired him, the way he stayed positive, the way he faced the challenge. And whenever we talked, which was often until about six weeks ago, he always steered the conversation to my condition, my health. Typical. He wasn’t worried about him, he was worried about me.Then, the unthinkable happened and Bubba won one. Bubba got a lucky punch in. And I lost a brother. Many of us lost a brother. Sharran lost her husband and Ben lost his dad.

I told myself I wasn’t going to cry that day I heard the news. Even wrote a half assed poem expressing that sentiment. I think that as well as I got to know Steve over the past year, he wouldn’t have wanted tears.

But I freakin’ lied. I shed a tear for the loss of my brother. I shed a tear because I’ll never read another one of his stories. I shed a tear because he never got to share more of them. I shed a tear for Sharran, for Ben and for their loss. I shed a tear because I never ‘copied and pasted’ some of those great riffs. But, the musician in me knows that you can’t write down magic. You let it happen and marvel that it did.I shed a tear because the world lost a decent, honest, thinking, caring  man and we can always use a few more of those. I shed a tear for all of us that only knew him through Facebook because he was so much more real than that.

So, I guess the ‘clam shell’ will close one last time with this post. But, I’d really love it if everyone would post a comment with a story about your memory of Steve. maybe a joke he told, an observation he made, a lesson he taught, a memory he left behind. Then the clam shell can close one last time, and we can crack it open every now and then when we need him most.

The Dirty Lowdown

Go in grace, my brother Steve Bennett

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Last Five Books I've Read

Guardian of Lies  Guardian of Lies-Steve Martini . Very good, Paul Madriani the Southern California defense attorney, defends Katia Solaz, a Costa Rican beauty facing a murder charge committed by Liquida, the Mexecutioner. Busy action involving escaped Guantánamo prisoners, a Colombian rebel base, a Mexican drug cartel and a plot to bring the war home to the Great Satan via a nuclear device. Fun use of tech devices by the FBI.

Rain Gods  A Novel (9781439128305)  James Lee Burke  Books.htm

Rain Gods-James Lee Burke .  Enjoyed this one. Similar setting as No Country For Old Men but Burkes' use of language and characters is so original and he had me writing musical scores as if it were a film. Jimmy Dean, Johnny Paycheck, Marty Robbins, Waylon and Willie tunes kept creeping into my mind. A young Iraqi war veteran and his girlfriend, who sings Carter Family Spirituals in honky tonks that made John Wesley Harden nervous,  find themselves on the run after a series of brutal murders in South West. Fortunately, Sheriff Hack Holland is on the case and back in a world he'd tried to leave behind so long ago.

Tempted By Trouble Tempted By Trouble-Eric Jerome Dickey. Hopefully you have read my review, but Eric has done it again with a story filled with themes from today, The price of love, the cost of morality. What would you pay for your self respect?  At once Noir Caper story with dashes of Road Story, Thriller, Love Story, Crime Novel and a Moral Tail, but as Eric recently told me, "I don't work about the box. All I care about is the writing." Tempted is bound to top all the best seller lists as Eric once again sets the bar awful high for anybody writing modern fiction.

Tokyo Year Zero

Tokyo Year Zero-David Peace. I hadn't heard of David Peace or this novel, but as I was exiting a grocery store my volunteer driver wanted to buy a lottery ticket and parked me near the entrance and wouldn't you know it, they had a bargain bin with books. Maybe there is a god. This is a darkly disturbing novel based on a real-life serial-killer case in post-WWII Japan. The despair of the "defeated" and the hate for the "victor" and the horror of how that war ended are the back drop . Inspector Minami of the Tokyo police walks a lot of tight ropes in this tale from the British author who lives in Japan and is a winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. Minami is married and a father of two, is smart, tenacious and experienced; he's also addicted to sedatives, keeps a mistress, is in the pocket of a local crime lord and not above sampling the wares of prostitutes he encounters while roaming the city at night.


Knots-Nuruddin Farah  It's easy to see why Nuruddin Farah's name keeps getting mentioned as a likely recipient of a Nobel for Literature. This is a strange and compelling read that will haunt you. Somalia, is shown in all its war-ravaged sadness. Cambara is a young Somalian-born woman who has spent most of her life in Toronto. Through the carelessness of her husband and his mistress, Cambara's son has drowned and she returns to her home to properly grieve. Once there, she attempts to wrest her family property from the warlords who seized it. Despite squalor, poverty, sexual depravity, petty meanness, and the constant threat of violence, Cambara and a small cadre of good people struggle against daunting odds and the story reminds us that home, even in a forgotten and forlorn place in the world, is still home. The story showcases the solidarity and civilizing influence women have, even in the direst circumstances imaginable. This is not a beach read. If you have any desire to explore the world and learn about hero's that don't drive fast cars and wear Jimmy Choos , it is a story not to be missed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review-Tempted By Trouble by Eric Jerome Dickey

 The bad thing about reading a new Eric Jerome Dickey novel is that you know you will have to wait a year for the next o51DwdieclaL._SL160_ne.

  How far will you go for love? What compromises will you  make to keep it? Dmytryk Knight has to answer these questions in Tempted By Trouble, The soon to be Best Seller from Eric Jerome Dickey and Dotton/Penguin Group. Dmytryk must live with those answers. Dmytryk is a respectable man, a man who has seemingly fulfilled the American dream. He is college educated and has earned a white collar job in Detroit's Auto Industry. Dmytryk is a conservative man who wears Johnston & Murphy wing tip shoes, wears conservative dark tailored suits even for dinner at home with a ghost.

He carries his fathers pocket watch and wears his fathers classical black fedora. He measures his accomplishments against the lessons he learned from his hard working parents. Until the crippling recession of the first decade of the 21st century comes along and puts his values to a test a lot of us are currently taking ourselves. Dmytryk is down sized from his comfortable six figure job, but recovers and puts on a blue collar, working the production line in the same auto plant. It's a step back, but Dymtryk is a noble man. "It's a birth defect," he says of that nobility. He meets Cora Mature who works on the line too. They fall in love and marry and between them they can still maintain that American Dream. Until the economy spirals into even darker times. Out of work for two years, having lost two fancy new cars, their town house in a "nice" neighborhood, run out of unemployment and spent their savings, they are forced to move into the small house that Dmytryk grew up in. The new cars are gone, but they have Dmytryk's fathers classic ' 69 Buick Wildcat which he meticulously maintains, dreaming of those shiny European status symbols. They work part time jobs. Many part time jobs, Dmytryk even delivers pizzas, a far cry from the boardrooms of GM. They maintain the dream as best as two decent people can in trying times until one day Cora gives into desperation-she'd grown up poor, and wasn't going back without a fight. Behind Dmytryk's back, she takes a job as an exotic dancer at a "gentlemen's club" that had no gentlemen as patrons. She take's the stage name of Trouble, then she becomes Trouble.

Cora is an erotic and exotic beauty. Brooklyn born and Detroit raised. She is the perfect mix of Dominican, Canadian, Jamaican, Chinese and "a few other dark exotic lands combined." A stunning beauty with an erotic face that "reminds Dmytryk of Maria de Medeiros Esteves Vitorino de Almeida." Child like and seductive all at once. Her metamorphous throughout the story is more physical, where Dmytryk's is more a transformation of the soul. Cora transforms from a woman of conservative and expensive dress and tastes into a woman that looked like she stepped off the cover of a magazine that featured stories penned by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammet, maybe pulp stories about a mysterious buxom woman who carried a gun, a woman who had sex for fun and shot people for the same reason. Trouble meets a very dangerous man, a man that goes by the name of Eddie Coyle. Eddie Coyle steals from the rich and gives to the disenfranchised. Eddie Coyle seduces Trouble one night, with money, expensive meals and night spots, and a $5,000 fur coat because she is cold. Delivers her 24 hours later back to her husband and lures her into his world of bank robbery and deceit with a chance to live the high life once again. Dmytryk will do almost anything to honor his vows to love and protect Cora and seeing that he has failed at that duty, he agrees to work for Eddie Coyle.

While casually killing and dumping the body of his previous getaway driver and his wife, Eddie lays it all out for Dmytrk. First rule in this ruthless world. No witnesses. Eddie rants, "Capitalism is all about big fish devouring little fish and never stopping to masticate their prey. It's a good thing when you are winning. When you're losing, you see it's faults. The country is devolving. The Tea Party is out there expressing their outrage over health care. If this is the outrage that comes from health care, it's going to be crazy when immigration is brought to the table. Bad economy and racism, the fear of a new labor pool coming from beyond these shores to do jobs in an already jobless country-it will be a Molotov cocktail. It will be the Detroit race riots in '43 and the Detroit race riots in '67 and the Watts riots and the '67 Newark riots and the Oklahoma race riots in every state, city, and town in America." Dmytryk listens. Eddie had just murdered two people and was engaging in casual conversation about politics. Dmytryk goes from driving decisions in GM boardrooms to driving battered Chevy's as a bank robbing teams getaway driver. Sixty to zero in no time.

From there, Dmytryk is almost all in. He doesn't so much as sell his soul, as he sells his values and compromises his beliefs at the alter of love for his wife. He never gambled his honor or that birth defect, nobility, for if there was ever an honorable thief, Dmytryk Knight is him. He develops a brotherly affection for his "teammates", the inside guys, Sammy Sanchez and Rick Bielshowsky. He asks with concern after their wives and children. He is even taken into their confidence about a possible big job in the near future that could leave them all flush and able to retire. He even deals honestly with the psychopath Eddie Coyle and his thug brother, Bishop.

This team pull many robberies following the plans of Eddie Coyle and though the money is quick and the actual jobs take 2 minutes for $20,000 profit, Dmytryk finds that Cora spends it just like he had that regular six figure salary coming in. Their life is back to normal until the money starts to run low. Then Cora grows cold and distant, disappearing for days at a time with no explanation until he goes on another job for Eddie Coyle. After one such job he comes home and Cora is gone, no forwarding address.

He even comes to understand Sammy's mistress, and Dmytryk's secondary getaway driver Jackie Brown and her motivations even though she is an "alcoholic who sleeps with married men, has sex with the bedroom door open wide for everyone to see, kills people for fun and shoots innocent televisions to make a point." Even though she has a filthy, arrogant and dark demeanor, her dirtiness appeals to Dmytryk's resentment after Cora's disappearance.  Jackie is an ex soldier who lost her children in a custody battle while serving her country in a combat zone. Dmytryk see's her resentment and feelings of being betrayed by the same system she was fighting to protect. The same system that betrayed him and cost him his dignity and his wife.

After a job in The City of Lost Angles goes terribly wrong, and Sammy is killed and Rick is left behind as  Dmytryk has to flee one dead, the other badly wounded. Dmytrk and Jackie have to cooperate to make their getaway and wind their way across the country, Dmytryk battered and bruised after having rammed the getaway car into an innocent woman who slowed down to read a text message from her fiance. Her fiance was breaking it off in that 21st century way; texting. She ends up a hostage confused and damning her luck as she is forced to deliver Dmytryk to a meeting with Jackie. Jackie reminds Dmytrk of the First Rule: No witnesses.

From there, Jackie and Eddie Coyle lures Dmytryk into one final job. The big job.Eddie informs him, "By the way, Rick didn't make it. Dmytryk asks, "Does his wife know?" Eddie answers, "She knows and she knows to keep her mouth closed. If we have to visit her, it won't be to bring flowers." Eddie also tells Dmytryk that the secirity gaurd at the bank died, meaning that Dmytryk would face a capital musder charge if anybody talks.The big job is all that matters to Eddie Coyle and Jackie Brown . The job that will allow her to kidnapp her own children and flee to South America. Maybe Dmytryk will come with her. He hasn't Cora to go back to. She seduces Dymtryk, because he is a necessary piece of the plan, the meal ticket out of town. So, they make their way to Georgia where Eddie Coyle is waiting with the plan for their retirement. A plan that will leave Dmytryk living in a suburb of Detroit not far from downtown madness and near the corner of redemption.

Mr. Dickey has written a winner that is bound to top all the Best Seller lists. It is a dark work on canvass painted from many pallets. Noir, but not really Noir because in  Noir stories the characters are losers and are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should. And Tempted is filled with many characters that the reader wants to have win. You'll want them to redeem themselves, with the possible exception of Eddie Coyle. It's got a daub of Thriller written in there, but it is not strictly a thriller. It does have plenty of action that will keep you on the edge of your seat and licking your fingers to turn pages as fast as possible, but a good deal of the "thrill factor" is in what will the characters do next. How will they react under morally challenging pressure. It's certainly a bit of a crime novel, but their are cops only peripherally involved and you need cops chasing bad guys for a "crime novel". It also is a bit of a "Road Story" but not purely so since the geographic destinations are secondary to the destinations of the heart and soul. What Mr. Dickey has done here is transcend genre. He has written a tale that is  all of those things mentioned above and a moral tale at the same time. A tale with contemporary themes, readily empathized with by a large portion of the planets populace at this point in history. A tale that could almost be told about any number of people real or fictitious in these times of political and economic upheaval that you, the reader, may be dealing with right now. Mr. Dickey has once again proven that he isn't just the best African American novelist working today, but indeed among the absolute best American Authors. In the end-it's a story of how we struggle and how we overcome, a great tale of survival and a love that....let's call it a great love story...that's what we do.

(I'd like to thank Eric Jerome Dickey and Ava Kavyani, Mr. Dickey's Publicist at Dutton/Penguin for providing the early release copy of Tempted By Trouble-Available August 17th in bookstores everywhere. Preorder it now from Amazon by clicking the book covers above.)

The Dirty Lowdown

Robert Carraher

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tempted By Trouble-Eric Jerome Dickey's Newest Novel Available August 17th

Tempted by Trouble


I am about half way through Tempted By Trouble and will be posting a review here and at Amazon, I anticipate Monday the 9th (I am taking extensive notes as I read), but I am so pleased with the book, I thought I'd put the link to Amazon up here so that you guys can preorder it. Tempted By Trouble Preorder now. Once again, Eric has escaped the tag "genre". The story has some nice noir elements, and I am loving it! Preorder now you guys and girls, I guarantee you will love this book.


The Dirty Lowdown

Friday, August 6, 2010

Get out the vote

Usually I post political opinions, here, and maybe some analysis from a historical point of view or at least an opinion formed by the lessons of history. But today, I received this open letter John Lewis at and I think that if we wish our President to continue to be successful, that it is very important that we express that in the November elections. The way we do that is to rally around him like we did two years ago. Anyway, here is John Lewis' letter. Don't get lazy y'all and talk to everyone you know about voting come November.


Friend --
On March 7th, 1965, 600 of us lined up to walk from Selma to Montgomery, to march for voting rights.
When we tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, we were met by state troopers. They attacked us with tear gas, bullwhips, and nightsticks.
It became known as Bloody Sunday, and the national outcry over the brutality that day led to the enactment, exactly 45 years ago today, of the Voting Rights Act.
The progress we've made since then is remarkable.
But the expansion of voting rights for millions did not happen overnight. It was the product of a continued struggle, by many people, over many years.
And just as change did not come easily then, it does not come easily now.
Discrimination still exists in America -- its effects can be as harmful as they were decades ago. And we can always become a better, more just society.
Two years ago, this movement -- led by Barack Obama -- brought millions of people into the political process for the first time.
I'm told that many of you are working hard now to get as many as possible of those folks -- and others from across the country who are with us in these fights -- to the polls this year.
It's an important effort, and the legacy of the fight for the Voting Rights Act is that it is not only our right to vote, and to help others do so -- it is our duty.
Can I count on you to help out between now and the elections in November?
When I was a child, I tasted the bitter fruits of racial discrimination -- and I did not like it.
That was what spurred me to act. In those early days, we sacrificed our very selves for our rights as Americans. But we never gave up.
And now barriers that kept an entire people from full participation in this country have been removed.
No longer are people who look like me met with violence when we register to vote.
No longer is the idea that an African American could become president just a dream.
We live in a better world, a better country.
But our work is not complete. We cannot wait for someone else to make change.
We must all do it. You must do it. I must do it.
Please sign up to help millions more vote:
Thank you,
Representative John Lewis



And that's the...

Dirty Lowdown

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The debate over 'birthright citizenship'

My response or ideas on this subject were prompted by the following Article on First Read. The interesting thing to analyze when this subject comes up is the motivation behind it. The so called "Birthers" would have it that by simply being born here, you are not entitled to citizenship, a law that was first enacted to settle the citizenship status of "freed slaves" after the Civil War. But the Birthers would have it that you are not entitled to citizenship unless your parents were both legal citizens of the country when you are born (neither could be even a legal immigrant who hadn't taken the oath of citizenship by the time of your birth). Some would go further and deny citizenship to those whose grandparents didn't fit this criteria.

Now to be fair, there are at least two recognizable ways to write a law defining citizenship. Those are referred to by the "mouth pieces" as jus soli and jus sanguinis. Or "Law of Ground" and "Law of Blood" . There are also two lesser schools of law more or less defined as the German conception of an "objective nationality", based on blood, race or language (as in Fichte's classical definition of a nation), opposing themselves to republican Ernest Renan's "subjective nationality", based on an every-day plebiscite of one's appartenance to hisFatherland. Most nation-states decided their definitions at or before the turn of the 19th century and have tweaked those law only to accommodate immigration.

Now on the surface, what the Birthers put forth this may seem to solve the problem of "border hoppers" who come here just to get citizenship for their children, but lets take a look at the effects such a law would have if enacted in the US today.

It would remove citizenship from all Hawaiians born before August 1959 since their parents weren't US citizens before Hawaii became a state-same would apply for Alaska. I won't even go back to states admitted before Hawaii as chances are there aren't many people born in, for instance, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma (1906-1912) before they were admitted as states, still alive. Chances are that even their parents were born after those places became states.

Nor will we consider the citizenship status of US territories and Common Wealth's such as Puerto Rico, Samoa, US Virgin Islands and Guam whose citizens are granted US Citizenship even though none of those places are US States. This is where the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” comes into play.

Now it is possible that the Birthers could reform and tailor make such a  law and write it in such a way that it would grant citizenship to those people. Maybe they could get that same lawyer who wrote Arizona's SB1070, he seems to pride himself in writing laws to get around the spirit of current law in much the same way that banks bragged that they didn't mind not being allowed to continue usurious credit card charges because they could find other ways to charge their customers the money without providing a service. But that would almost defeat the nature of the Birther movement which is to question the legality of President Obama (by the nature of his father having not been a citizen, even if they finally have to admit he was born in Hawaii). But they would have to go even further, because no matter how they would customize this law to exclude the current President, it would by it's nature also exclude Hawaiians, one of which is Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii who it is a known fact neither of his parents were even Hawaiian citizens (they were Japanese immigrants) when he was born. Now to put this in perspective, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii is now the President pro tempore of the senate. This makes Sen Inouye third in line to the office of President behind the VP. So, would we reform this law to exclude the possibility of people like Sen. Inouye becoming president? If so, how far "down the line of seccession" would we go? No matter how remote the chances of him becoming President would seem to be? Where do we draw the line? Should he even be denied the right to be a senator to avoid the uncomfortable situation of rising to the position of being in the line of succession for an office that by law he couldn't hold? In other words, denied to participate in the governance of the country even after he has become a citizen.

When you start looking at how such a law would have to be "nipped and tucked & tailored" it becomes clear what the motivation behind even considering such change to our citizenship laws would have to be.

The only motive for rewriting the citizenship laws at this late point in our history can only be xenophobia at it's best, and blatant racism at it's worst and the only question to ask yourself is do we wish to be a xenophobic country and can you fit that "square peg" into the "round hole" of democracy?


The Dirty Lowdown

© 2010 Robert Carraher All rights reserved

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Never mind the apologists for Andrew Breitbart  trying to sell us the story that he was duped by his ‘source’. Chief among these apologists is Ann Coulter. Before trying to convince us that it is “somebody else’s fault” that Breitbart and Fox didn’t check their source, shouldn’t they remember what happened to Dan Rather and 60 Minutes after they used forged documents as a basis for a story about George Bush's National Guard non-service? Any serious journalist will tell you that one of the first responsibilities is to check your source. Of course, accepting Fox as responsible journalism or Breitbart as the same would take a lot of doing lately.

Breitbart's fraud video validates what Fox" already fervently believed about the Obama administration". As Chris Martinez points out in his Blog Inside Out The Beltway, it was the "proof" of the black version of institutional racism” they had been waiting for all this time. It didn’t take very long to uncover their fear and loathing as a trumped up charge. Right wing activists hell-bent on discrediting and destroying the first black president - wingnuts whose  slanders and propaganda are legitimated and turned "mainstream" by attention-hungry media organizations and, most of all, a full-time, round-the-clock, right-wing opposition research and propaganda operation posing as a cable news network.

Fox and the like are such hate/fear mongers that instead of uncovering proof of racism as many honest media have about some Tea Party leaders, and the Tea Party’s failure to “refudiate” the racists that they have attracted (with the exception of the expulsion of Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express ). They are left to manufacture lies and sell them to their rapt viewers in prime time.

I can only believe that there are enough scared white folks out there that want to believe that the survival of the country depends on keeping minority groups “in their place” and anytime those groups gain a position of equality, it couldn’t of been on merit, but had to be a conspiracy. Never mind that it is almost impossible for reverse racism to exist. Racism itself depends on “having power”. The power to oppress, the power to deny a job, equal pay, equal benefits, equal housing,equal standing in society. Sure, there are bigots (as opposed to racists) in every ethnic group. As some fear mongers would have us believe about the New Black Panther Party. But the NBPP doesn’t have the power to oppress, they only have the power to intimidate. And not much of that. The only racism in this country that has that power to oppress is white racism. And maybe that is what the right wing is afraid of. With a black man in the White House, they are loosing their grip on that power.


The Dirty Lowdown

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chuck Palahniuk’s 'The Love Theme of Sybil and William',

Chuck Palahniuk is perhaps one of Portland, Oregon’s best kept secrets, okay, so he lives “near Vancouver” which is “near” Portland. Any how, if you have never read his work, then you might as well flip over to day time reruns of Bay Watch, because you just won’t get it.

Chuck is one of the only guys I know of who was a male escort….okay, it was at a hospice, so not only can he write like nobody around today, he has a heart of gold. Most of you will remember “The Fight Club” his first successfully published novel (although not his First Novel…more later) which was turned into a Smash/Flop (opened number one at the box office but died afterwards) starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. This flick turned into a cult movie and was based on an earlier attempt at a book, called Insomnia: “If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Already”. You might remember that the main character in “Fight Club” Played by Edward Norton, was an insomniac.

After Insomnia  he wrote a book that was rejected as “to disturbing”. That book was titled “Invisible Monsters” The story revolves around  a disfigured woman, a transsexual named Brandy Alexander, and the wedding day of Ms. Evie Cottrell, whose house get burned to the ground. The narrator is horribly disfigured after being shot in the face during an apparent road rage/random act of violence incident, and ends up loosing the lower jaw. The story is very nonlinear and there are more strange, if loveable and despicable, beautiful and ugly, people involved. Identities are so confusing (and metaphorical) at times you need a score card, but bottom line it makes you think again about what is weird, normal, ugly and beautiful. Chuck wrote “Fight Club” to be even more disturbing, so naturally the suits liked it! Still one of his strongest works in my mind.


Anyway, Chuck just posted "The Love Theme of Sybil and William" ', the second published short story, (before even Fight Club) Guess what I'm reading this afternoon?


The Dirty Lowdown

Elizabeth Warren Best Choice the Lead Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection


Elizabeth Warren has devoted much of the past three decades to studying the economics of middle class families. In the wake of the 2008-9 financial crisis, she became the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the U.S. banking bailout (formally known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program). In that role, she has provided a critical check on the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has been a leading advocate for accountability and transparency.

Steve Clemons has a post about her and a link to a petition urging the Obama Administration to nominate her for this position.

Elizabeth Warren

You can find his article here and the petition here I’d urge anyone who advocates a strong presence to police Wall Street and the Banking Industry to protect the working middle class to sign this.


The Dirty Lowdown

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can’t Tell The Players Without A Score Card (eReaders)

The eReader business is really heating up. The price wars are in full battle regalia and some old soldiers are falling in the trenches while others are just now getting into the fray. Amazon and their Kindle still seem to be in the lead, but depending on how and what you use to measure the market, Apple and the iPad are hot on their heels. Borders has just mustered their army with the Kobo, and other “generic” and one off players are loosing ground and don’t seem to stand a chance other than as low price side line players.

As this battle for market share, negotiations with traditional publishers over royalties, and other things not necessarily important to the reader seem to become more important at least behind the scenes, and in some cases, as in all wars, may swing the tide of battle more than the “weapons’ themselves. Amazon has now opened a service for publishing eBooks that is very lucrative to an ambitious author who not only has the energy and know how to write a decent book, but to market it, edit it (or hire a free lance editor) and design the cover art (or hire that task done too). If there is such an author, and there is at least one, J.A. Konrath, then he stands to reap a much larger percentage of the profits. Others, like Apple with the iPad are raising the stakes by making eReaders at least as appealing in aesthetics as any high tech piece of furniture, and as sleek and beautiful in design, if not in function and flexible use.

Barnes and Nobel seems to still be a viable player, with a very nice feature rich eReader, even if it doesn’t come in as many flavors as the Kindle or the Sony offerings. And now, Borders has come to the battle, almost reluctantly it seems. The Kobo is a decent eReader if a bit of a basic device. They do offer some services that make it appealing.

An aside here, picking and choosing an eReader is a matter of what you are looking for. For instance, there is no denying (or avoiding with all the press) the iPad. But for me the iPad has some serious problems. Since they didn’t go with an eInk screen (all the other makers buy the low powered, low energy usage black and white screens from eInk that also happen to be easy on the eyes and you can see them as well as the printed page even in direct sunlight) their iPad has to be recharged significantly more often-ten hours as opposed to 10 days to 2 weeks. It is also useless outdoors except at night, not something o take out to the pool or to the beach. Also the iPad is heavy at 1.5 to 1.6 pound, with the next heaviest at around 12.5 oz. Imagine trying to hold the large print dictionary with one hand for any length of time. The iPad to me anyhow, is more a Rolls Royce of Netbooks-those low priced, light weight laptops with limited functionality. I have heard that it is not easy to type on, and most owners I have talked to, while praising it, have said they still will use their MacBook or Desktop (either Mac or PC) just as much as before.

The thing that separates the rest of the warriors here, is mainly features and services. How the navigation works (touch screen as opposed to mouse like buttons or even a keyboard) is the memory expandable-The Kindle is not, but do you need to carry more than 1500 books? How about can you play MP3’s while you are reading, and lets not forget content delivery. We have 3G (cell phone) for free, WiFi - you need be near a hot spot either in public or at your house, the the “local delivery options-USB and Blue tooth-in either case you need to down load your selections from the bookstore of your choice to either your Smartphone or PC, then send them to your eReader. So, you have to decide, do I want a “heavy eReader that I have to recharge daily and won’t be much use out side, but it checks e-mail, plays iTunes and can do some word processing and other things I’d normally have to fire up my laptop or desktop for. Or do I want a single (mostly) function device that I hardly have to worry about charging more than two to three times a month, fits in my pocket, and can be read outdoors. Do I need the ability to purchase books at three a.m and have them delivered via 3G in a matter of minutes, or can I put up with going to my PC or Phone, down loading it and transferring it. Do I want to be able to play music too. Where do I shop for books the most often? All of these questions are up to the individual reader, just as choosing a car would be. What's right for you?

To an extent, there seems to be nothing left to fight about, except for seeing if the market will ever come up with a standard for format. and how many additional service can they throw in.  Kindle has their proprietary AMZ format and of course, Apple has theirs. Interestingly enough, before the iPad I though Amazon was going to have to abandon  their proprietary format to stay in the lead, but Apple jumping in with their own “closed” format seems to of almost propped up Amazon in that side line war. All the other combatants have given ground on this issue and have adopted one or all of the “standards” – ePub and/or PDF. Also, even the proprietary player offer free apps so that you can shop their stores and still read your books on your PC/MAC, Smart Phone, Laptop or Tablet. Same with Adobe in the case of Digital Editions and Google (who seems more bent on supporting “standard formats” than entering the device war, with their Library Software. I want to note here that while Amazon is the largest on line retailer and B&N the largest “real” retailer, Google has probably digitized more books, and most of those offerings were already in the Public Domain (free) but has a presence in the newer book world.

Below I have compiled a sort of matrix of all the major players and their devices. Complete with Technical Specs, Features, Pros and Cons, Pricing etc…it might make it easier to tell the players apart. If you’d like a copy of the original Excel spread sheet contact me and I’ll be glad to e-mail it too you. If you think I should add a device, let me know that as well.


The Dirty Lowdown

Here is a link to the Excel Doc on my SkyDrive"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts on the future of books and reading

As anyone out there who knows me could tell you, I have a voracious "Need to Read". I don't read just to escape, or relax, or pass the time either. I love anything from ancient obscure history to technology to modern fiction. I am the only person that I know that actually has read Einsteins "Relativity" from front to back, and then wrote a book report on it (I was a weird kid).

And its not just the books or the content, the story or the lesson. I love the look of books. Since I was a kid I have belonged to book clubs, browsed book stores and spent my hard earned dollars, been a sucker for every club selling "Leather Bound" classics "Gilt Edged" pages and the illustrated, illuminated and autographed. I love to see them on the shelves throughout my house. When I visit a friends house, the first thing I look for (if they don't have old Fender Guitars on display) is their book cases. I think less of friends that don't have book cases or at least a copy of something on display.

Something else anyone who knows me could tell you is that I'm a techie. Yet, I have never owned a digital watch....So, knowing that you could probably deduce that if you need an answer and technology could give it to you, I just might be the guy to talk to. But I won't try and tell you that technology is the be all or the end all.

So, when I started reading about eBooks, all the different eReaders etc...that started coming out a few years ago, I just didn't see them ever replacing "Real Books". The formats weren't compatible from provider to provider. The things were hunky and clunky and were about as kin to a book as a stone ax is to a rifle. Now the "next generation" is out there, and not surprisingly, they are starting to look and feel more like traditional books. The formats aren't proprietary (as much and they can usually be converted to whatever format your Reader takes), you change pages with a motion close to what you'd use on a real book. Also the features are starting to become attractive, or at least more practical. They are sized from the dimensions of a typical magazine or text book to the size of a paperback. And no matter how many books you store on it (the nicer ones will hold over 1500 books!), it still weighs about the same as your average periodical. You can also have delivered every morning, wirelessly, dozens of news papers! Where was this when I was in college schlepping more weight in texts than I did in Vietnam carrying a radio, rifle, pack and various letters from home?

Some other features that are real attractive are they are adding wireless download capability. For Free! You can shop the book store, and purchase the book and have it in your hand from almost anywhere, in 60 seconds all free, not even the cost of a text message on your phone. Imagine sitting in the bath tub on a Saturday morning,or on the beach, cup of coffee setting precariously on the edge of the tub or Mai Tai using a hole in the sand as a cup holder. You just finished the latest Stephen King and you are dreading breaking the mood to go down stairs or back to the hotel room and finding your next need. Take a sip of coffee (I'll stick to the Mai Tai), browse the online store, and bing! There it is before the coffee gets cold or you have dripped or tracked sand all over the carpet. The newer Kindle II or the latest Nook from Barnes and Noble will also store some MP3s and play your music in the back ground. I really like listening to Bud Powell when I read Hemmingway and The Stones when I read Robert Crais...

So, this latest gadget might just convert this guy the way digital watches never could....maybe. You still can't swat a fly with it...well you could but chances are if you did it'll cost you another $250.00 and reading in the tub means paying especial attention to not falling asleep since I seriously doubt dipping your eReader in the bubble bath is covered under the warranty.

But beyond the practical, what do these things mean for book lovers, authors and publishers? Well, the publishers and their employers will still have a job. They can publish just as well in e-format as in paper. I am doing some casual asking around as to how, money wise it might affect authors, but I suspect it won't hurt them and indeed, may allow some authors that self publish to reach a broader audience and even sell more books, at least until the novelty wears off. Also, a lot of established authors are converting there works that have been long out of print to E-Format so they are available again even if they won’t reach the NYT Best Sellers list this time around, the writer can make money off of it even tho’ the publishers aren’t interested in a reissue.

But beyond the principles, The guy (or gal) that wrote the book, the guys and gals that published the book and the audience that reads and enjoys the book, how does it affect the rest of the supply chain? One positive is that it'll take trees out of the equation..Well, the Big Guys that have a book store in every Mall in America will probably just morph into the guys that are supplying the eBook for the most part, but what about the small specialty stores? You know the ones that have quaint shops selling "just mysteries" or "just self help" books? I remember when iPods and downloading electronic music killed the neighborhood record store. And before that, when LP's were replaced by CD's. I remember in the 60's when half the fun of buying the latest Beatles release was in browsing the record store, and getting the clerk (who loved music as much as you did) to play a dozen new releases that your paper route money could never afford. Then taking it home and reading the liner notes until you had them memorized.

I do the same with books. I read the prefaces, The blurbs, the reviews, the back pages that tell you where Berry Eisler went to school or what Michael Connelly did before Harry Bosch. They tell me the order of Hemingway wives, and what his kids are doing now and how to make a Daiquiri. I went to signings, just to hear the authors talk, even when my puny GI paycheck wouldn't stretch for another hardback this month (at least if I didn't want to cut into my beer budget), I'd get in line and see if I could get an autograph on a dog eared paperback. Yeah, I loved the stories, loved the places they took me, taught me, exposed me to. But a lot of what I loved and still do is/was that atmosphere. The people that created or related the stories would visit my town, my bookstore. Would act friendly to the person that owned/ran that book store where I had gone from Lad A Dog and Superman Comics to Faulkner, Frost and Steinbeck and , maybe that owner/clerk that got to exchange jokes with Pat Conroy was someone you went to church with, or drank with on Saturday night. How cool was that?

I guess what worries me is that those personal touches, those things that made me a reader will go away. Oh, I'll still buy the books, the magazines, no matter what form. And I’ll still search out the first edition hardbacks to display like art in my home. I might even finally get a digital watch to go along with my eReader....nah! But what about the kids out there. Will as many of them get hooked on the written word without that atmosphere. Maybe I'm just afraid they'll fall in love for different reasons than I did and invalidate my love? And will the death of the independent specialty book store be an end of an era? I think so.

I guess I survived the death of the LP and the CD and liner notes, but I still want to go to signings, lectures, and smell the ink on the pages. I may not show up on time, since I don't have a digital watch but I know how to make a perfect Hemingway Daiquiri.