Friday, April 29, 2005
Flashback to Spring, 1963. I'm doing my student teaching at A. S. Johnston High in Austin, Texas. There's a kid named Ronald Swank in my class, kind of a rough and tumble guy, but he likes to read, and we get along. One day after class he comes up to talk, and he's holding a blue paperback. "I like to read war books," he says. "I thought this was a war book, but it's not. Do you want it?" I take the book and look it over. It's Catch-22. I've heard about it, so I thank him and take it back to the dorm with me. That night I start reading it. It's different from anything I've ever read before. The characters all appear to be crazy, there are great one-liners on every page, the plot (if there is one) sure isn't linear. And I love it. Ronald Swank has changed my life.
Over the years, I've probably read Catch-22 a dozen times. I picked it up again last week and started it again. It's just as fresh to me now as it was 42 years ago. A great book? I don't know what the ultimate judgment of history will be. Who reads it now? Anybody? Or is it already forgotten? All I know is that for me it will always be one of the best books of the late lamented 20th century.
California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker (William Morrow)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Country of Origin by Don Lee (W.W. Norton & Company)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Confession by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime)
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W. Norton & Company)
BEST FACT CRIME
Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective's Twenty-Year Search for Justice by Leonard Levitt (Regan Books)
BEST SHORT STORY
"Something About a Scar" – Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You by Laurie Lynn Drummond (HarperCollins)
BEST YOUNG ADULT
In Darkness, Death by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)
Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away With It) by Neal Bell (Playwrights Horizons)
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
Law & Order: Criminal Intent – “Want”, Teleplay by Elizabeth Benjamin. Story by René Balcer & Elizabeth Benjamin
BEST TELEVISION FEATURE OR MINI-SERIES TELEPLAY
State of Play by Paul Abbott (BBC America)
BEST MOTION PICTURE SCREENPLAY
A Very Long Engagement - Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the Novel by Sébastien Japrisot (2003 Productions)
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Wow! When I was a little kid, I used look at my grandmother's bird books and dream of someday finding an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in, say, the Big Thicket. That's one of those dreams I left behind a long time ago, but now somebody's found one. I really hope this is true.
Contiuing my foolish practice of plugging books by writers other than myself, today I'm recommending Voices of Vision by Jayme Blaschke. The book is a collection of interviews with such luminaries as Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellision, Neal Gaiman, and Gordon Van Gelder, seventeen interviews in all. I, for one, can never resist writers (and editors) talking about their work, and these inverviews are all thoroughly entertaining. Blaschke asks good questions, and he doesn't stick to the standards. Check it out.
And if you ever see Jayme at a convention or elsewhere, you can ask him how he persuaded the nice folks at the University of Nebraska to use his picture on the cover.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
(1) You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
Today, Moby Dick seems just right to me. Let's see Montag memorize that one.
(2) Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Sure, all the time. I think the first one was Becky Thatcher, and Modesty Blaise is a continuing fantasy of mine, not that she'd give me a second look.
(3) What are you currently reading?
Silvertip's Strike by Max Brand, because I've never read a Max Brand novel before, and I've been promising myself for months that I would.
(4) What five books you would take to a deserted island?
Naturally I'd want Shakespeare's collected works in one volume, which would just count as one book. I'd probably need that nice Library of America volume devoted to Chandler, or maybe the one devoted to Hammett. Again one volume equals one book I guess I'll take 'em both. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And War and Peace. I've never managed to read that one. Maybe if I were desperate, I could get through it.
(5) Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Nobody, probably. I'm not a pass-along kind of guy. If I think of somebody, though, maybe I'll send it along.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
There have been a lot of books about prisoners, but not so many about the other men who spend a large part of their lives in prison, the ones who run the place. Warden: Texas Prison Life from the Inside Out is the story one one of those men, Jim Willett. He grew up in Groesbeck, Texas, not far from Mexia, my hometown, and his father had the Pearl beer distributorship in Mexia. I never knew Jim Willett, but I found his story fascinating. He began work for the Texas prison system as a way to earn money while he was in college and wound up spending the rest of his working life in jail, beginning as a guard at one of the pickets and finally becoming warden of the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, the unit where the death sentence is carried out. Along the way he was present at the most notorious hostage situation ever to occur in a Texas prison, and toward the end he oversaw a number of executions. Warden tells about some of his experiences, and interspersed among them are accounts of of those executions. If you've ever wondered about what goes on in the Death Chamber, these accounts are worth the price of the book by themselves. Texans will immediately recognize the names of several of the men whose deaths Willett oversaw: Dennis Dowthitt, Kenneth McDuff, Gary Graham. How Willett felt about his job may surprise you, or it may not, but the power of these stories will stay with you for a long time.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Sunday, April 24, 2005
You have to register to read The New York Times, but this is a pretty interesting article about self-published books.
One of the Big Name Guests was Michael Moorcock, as I mentioned in my previous post. I heard that while he already has a nice home near Austin and another in Majorca, he's considering buying one in Paris. Elric has been very good to him.
And Joe Lansdale's talent has been very good to him. He tells me that he has seven books coming out from small presses this year, four of them collections of older material and three of them new stuff, including two new novels. The Drive-in 3 is of course the long-awaited sequel to the first two Drive-in novels, and Flaming London is the follow-up to Zeppelins West. Ned the Seal lives!
The panels seemed especially well-attended this year, and Aggiecon seems well on the way back from the doldrums it had sunk into a few years back.