Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Observations — 1942, Dark Days of World War II Continued

The Nazis meet to discuss “the final solution,” the genocide known as the holocaust.  In the U.S., 120,000 Japanese Americans were moved to “relocation centers.  Japan occupied Manila, invaded Kuala Lumpur. U.S. bombed Tokyo. The Manhattan Project began. Napalm was invented. Women were welcomed into the military.  Boston’s Coconut Grove caught fire, 492 died.  Henry Ford patented plastic automobiles. Joe Lewis knocked out Buddy Baer. Abbott and Costello go on radio.  Tweety Bird makes movie cartoon debut. The popular movies this year include Bambi, Casablanca, Cat People, The Magnificent Ambersons, Kings Row, The Man Who Came To Dinner, This Gun For Hire, The Talk of the Town and Now Voyager.  We heard Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” for the first time.  “Chattanooga Choo Choo” sold one million copies. It became the first Gold record. Count Basie recorded “One O’clock Jump.”  We also listened to “Moonlight Cocktail” by Glenn Miller, “Tangerine” by Jimmy Dorsey, “Sleepy Lagoon” by Harry James, “Jingle, Jangle Jingle” by Kay Kyser and I’ve Got A Girl in Kalamazoo, also by Glenn Miller. The Pulitzer Prize for literature went to Ellen Glasgow for In This Our Life.  Other books in the spotlight were Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck, Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier, The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck, The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel and Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field.  Carole Lombard, John Barrymore and George M. Cohan passed on. Joining the living were Harrison Ford, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Muhammad Ali, Bob Hoskins, Stephen Hawking, Paul McCartney, Roger Ebert and Michael Crichton.  If you were around during this year of the water horse, what were you doing?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Opinion — A Mini-Rant On The Publishing Wars

Scribner's Bookstore, Books as Treasures (Princeton)

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman and the prestigious Author’s Guild as well as many best-selling authors have pretty much painted Amazon as super villain and enemy of freedom and democracy.  Krugman made the point in a recent column that Amazon is not playing fair with Hatchette, the last of the big American publishers and that this endangers the American way of life. I’m a fan of Krugman, the Guild and many of the anti-Amazon authors, most of whom are gigantic businesses themselves.  I have no doubt Amazon is playing hardball and, as is the case in all major battles, folks get hurt. It wasn’t long ago that Borders and Barnes and Noble decimated independent bookstores through predatory location practices getting better deals from big publisher and therefore offering discounts not possible for the independents to offer. The marketplace changes, technology evolves, reader habits respond to the environment. 

But let’s look at some facts and put them in perspective. Hachette isn’t an American publisher.  It is French. That is certainly no crime and its country of origin wouldn’t put me off one iota, but this publisher, like the others in the Top Five, is also gobbling or trying to gobble up smaller publishers who, as a matter of practice, are more open to publishing non-best-selling writers and giving new writers a chance. The Big Five publishers are global and we need not think of them as vulnerable little Davids facing the Amazon Goliath. The truth is, at least for the moment, Amazon provides affordable services for authors and small publishers who seek entry into the marketplace. These aren’t saints and sinners we’re talking about but market forces waging battle. Both sides are causing collateral damage.

The other song being sung to shame Amazon is that the master on-line retailer considers books to be “products.”   I deeply empathize.  Books are special in my eyes. They are not widgets. However different folks look at what we do in different ways.  Not only do we create “products,” we create “content” in some minds, however abhorrent those words are to us.

Do the publishers hold the book to be as sacred as writers do?  Do they hold it in higher regard than Amazon?  I remember reading that publishers like Random House and Scribners used to keep money aside for talented writers to keep them afloat when the writer’s books didn’t sell. The company took a loss for the sake of art and because they considered books more than widgets.  I was lucky enough to visit the great Scribner & Sons Book Store on Fifth Avenue in New York before its various metamorphoses. These were hallowed grounds, books as a religion. There was no doubt the publisher held books in high regard. So when I hear authors use the product argument, but only against Amazon, I’m more than wary especially in the age of author James Patterson’s factory-produced novels and Stephen King, who has a new book out every five minutes. Bless him. He is tremendously successful because he is tremendously talented; but his one-sided criticism of Amazon, if not self-serving, rings false to me.
Indianapolis Central Library, A Place Where Books Are Not Products (Tierney)

And independent booksellers: No doubt Amazon is making life difficult, but have you forgotten how the big publishers treated you when the big box bookstores roamed the earth?

I’m not about to suggest the Vatican start the saint-making process for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. If nothing else, he’s been called on to address a few unpleasant workplace issues.  I am saying that we are seeing the dirty business of big business messing around in the book business.  With only five publishers dominating the world market, should we be surprised?  Seems to me the only entity holding a genuine reverence for books are public libraries, which have been singled out for severe budget cuts all across the country.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Observations — 1961, U.S. Still Obsessed With Communists

Nureyev Leaves Russian Ballet, Defects
As Dwight D. Eisenhower departed as president he warned the nation against the military industrial complex. John F. Kennedy was inaugurated.  The Bay of Pigs, an attempt to retake Cuba, failed.  The Berlin Wall was built. Kennedy advised Americans to build “fall out” shelters.  Rudolf Nureyev defected. Yuri Gagarin was the first person to orbit earth. Two thousand U.S. “military advisors” were in Vietnam. OPEC was formed. The Peace Corps was created. Adolf Eichmann went on trial as a war criminal. Fidel Castro cancelled all elections in Cuba. Twenty-seven freedom riders were arrested in Mississippi. New York’s MOMA displayed Henri Matisse’s “Le Bateau” upside down.  No one noticed for nearly two months. Ernie Banks played 717 consecutive games. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in one season.  “The Dick Van Dyke Show” premiered on TV.  So did “Mr. Ed.”  The Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to Harper Lee for To Kill A Mocking Bird.  The Mystery Writers of America gave its best mystery Edgar to Julian Symons for The Progress of a Crime.  We also read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger and The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. Bye Bye Birdie won a Tony that year. In the movie theaters, we watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, West Side Story, 101 Dalmatians, The Parent Trap, The Innocents, The Last Time I Saw Archie, Yojimbo, The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg, and The Guns of Navarone. That year Emmys went to Bob Newhart for Button Down Mind and Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith.  We also listened to “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis, “Michael” by The Highway men, “Crying” by Roy Orbison and “Runaway” by Del Shannon. We lost Ty Cobb, Carl Jung, Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Gary Cooper, James Thurber, Anna May Wong, Chico Marx, Jeff Chandler, Charles Coburn, Marion Davies, and Barry Fitzgerald. Taking their first breaths were Barack Obama, Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Princess Diana, Michael J. Fox, Billy Ray Cyrus, Wayne Gretsky, Woody Harrelson, James Gandolfini, Boy George, Steve Young, Tom Ford and Laurence Fishburne.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the metal ox?

1961 Valiant

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film Pairings — Two Films From The Seventies, Escape American vs. European Style

I can’t think of two more diverse approaches to film than these two 1970s crime films. One is American (U.S.) and the other European. If one needed an explanation of the difference in our cultures, this double feature should do the trick. 

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw
The Get Away (1972) is about as American as a movie can get.  Sam Peckinpah directed.  Arthur Hill wrote the screen play based on a Jim Thompson novel.  There are are guns — lots of guns — car chases, crashes, fires, explosions, falling elevators, even a potential hydraulic compaction in the back of a trash truck. McQueen is an ex-con who, in his exchange for what he imagines to be his freedom, trades his girlfriend and agrees to do a bank heist.  We go from bad to worse.  No end to treachery.  Along the way, the Thompson noir got a Hollywood detour.  Quincy Jones provided some happy ending music.  Even so, the movie was a big hit, and despite its ‘70s sentiment, Getaway is nonetheless an adventure. You won’t doze off.  The casting director deserves an award.  Ali MacGraw costars with merit, and supporting actor Al Lettieri is appropriately and masterfully despicable. Sally Struthers is at her irritating best.

Maria Schneider and Jack Nicholson
The theme of the evening is “escape,” from what to what.  In The Passenger we find Jack Nicholson playing British-born American TV journalist David Locke who is fed up with his wife, his life, and his job, which has devolved into a shallow practice of a once important profession.  At a remote hotel in Chad, he discovers that a fellow Western traveller with whom he had befriended has died of natural causes. The dead man had few ties back in England. Locke figured that, given the circumstances and with a little tinkering, he could exchange identities.  It was Locke who would be dead, officially. And the Nicholson character would be reborn as Robertson, set free from his encumbrances. However, Robertson turns out to have been a munitions supplier in the Chad civil war.  The new Robertson comes into a large sum of money, but of course cannot deliver the goods.  In this European film, written in part and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, the threats are more implicit than manifest.  The character’s philosophically existential dilemma is more important than his physical survival.

The Passenger (1975) is a slow, beautiful film. While Getaway is nearly all action, The Passenger slows so you can see the amazing stream of still photographs that make up the whole.  The life force in the film, however, comes from actress Maria Schneider, who plays a young and eccentric "passenger,",if only the main character would get it. She is a sprite who does her best to help a human (Nicholson) find what he is really searching for.

Oddly, at the end of Getaway, Steve McQueen tells Slim Pickens, “I hope you find what you’re lookin’ for.”  The thing is that the Slim Pickens’ character, hardly pivotal, was the only one (in both movies) not looking for anything and seems quite content.

The roughly four hours watching these two movies are spent in hot, dry and desolate places.  To help you endure your cinematic surroundings, put some ice into a glass with tequila or rum to stay cool.  Lemonade is nice too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Observations — 1943, TV Had Yet To Kill The Radio Star

Franklin Roosevelt, first U.S. president to visit a foreign country during wartime, and Winston Churchill met in Casablanca. But will they always have Paris?  Benito Mussolini was arrested. The Pentagon, the largest building in the world, was completed. Chiang Kai-shek became president of China. FDR named Dwight Eisenhower Supreme Commander of Allied Forces. Italy surrendered. Nazis advanced on Amsterdam where they killed Jews, homosexuals and communists.  They also raided a Jewish old folks home, (no doubt a major threat to the “homeland”).  Pope Pius XII welcomed the German ambassador to the Vatican.  In the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Race riots broke out in New York, L.A., Detroit and Beaumont, Texas.  “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show was cancelled after 4,000 shows. “Sorry, Wrong Number, “with Agnes Morehead, was a major radio success.  Jimmy Durante, Garry Moore, Groucho Marx and comic book character, Archie, premiered on radio. Oklahoma opened on Broadway. Joe DiMaggio enlisted in the military. Antibiotics were developed, as was the “Pap” test. Oklahoma opened on Broadway.  The Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Your Teeth. The Pulitzer for Literature went to Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair.   We also read The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, So Little Time by John C. Marquand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, Hungry Hill by Daphne Du Maurier and Mrs. Parkington by Louis Bromfield. At the movie houses we watched Sahara, Death Valley Rangers, Shadow of A Doubt, Jane Eyre, The Outlaw, Batman, and The Song of Bernadette.  We listened to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers. “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Al Dexter and His Troopers, “You’ll Never Know” by Dick Haymes, “I’ve Heard That Song Before” by Harry James, “There Are Such Things” by Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, “That Old Black Magic” by Glenn Miller, and “Sunday, Monday and Always” by Bing Crosby.  We lost Leslie Howard, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nikola Tesla, Frank Nitti, Beatrix Potter, Stephen Vincent Benet and Fats Waller. We gained Mick Jagger, Robert De Niro, George Harrison, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Christopher Walken, Joe Namath, Fabian, John Kerry, David Soul, Joni Mitchell, Penny Marshall, Ben Kingsley, Malcolm McDowell and Randy Newman.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water sheep?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Notes — Blatant Self-Promotion: Is Indianapolis PI Deets Shanahan Back For His Last Case?

Killing Frost, Shanahan's Last Case
I would have preferred to wait a bit for the announcement.  However the publisher has the news out there already.  So I wanted blog readers and Facebook friends to know. A new book in the “Deets” Shanahan series will soon be available.  

This is the description of Killing Frost:

At seventy-two Deets Shanahan is still reeling from brain surgery. He is ready to “check out.”  But fate has other plans. As he waits for the arrival of a mysterious, unwanted, yet insistent new client, he spies a car pull in his driveway.  From his window, he sees a lady head toward his front door. This is the first time he sees her and the last time he sees her alive.

Her death leaves too many questions. What did she want with Shanahan? Why was she killed? And what can he, in his condition, do about it? Shanahan’s obsessive search for answers will uncover a disturbing trail of greed, lies, ambition, sibling rivalry and police corruption.

Twenty-five years ago Shanahan embarked on his first case. This case is likely his last, a touching story of age, infirmity — and love.

My first book in the series, Stone Veil, was welcomed by The New York Times saying the elderly detective made a “good first impression.” The Private Eye Writers of America agreed, nominating the book for that year’s Shamus Award in the “best first P.I. novel category. Killing Frost is the 11th in the Shanahan series, all of them set in my hometown, Indianapolis.

Over the years, the critics have been generous in their praise.

"Tierney's 'Deets' Shanahan series, Stone Veil, offers characters of depth and sensuality, and well-placed swipes of razor-sharp humor." — Publishers Weekly
"A series packed with new angles and delights." — Booklist

Severn House, which has published the last seven Shanahan books, has announced Killing Frost, in hardback, will be available in the U.K. on January 1 and in the U.S. on May 1. If you’d like to pre-order at Amazon, click here. For Barnes & Noble, click here.  I’m not sure when the other formats will be available. Reviews — the good ones, anyway — will be posted as they arrive. And I’m sure more blatant promotions will follow as the official release dates get closer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Observations — 1939, “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” and “Frankly I Don’t Give A Damn.”

World War II began.  The long, lost Judge Crater was declared dead, though no one seemed too sure about it. Unemployment was at 17.2 percent. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed “sit down” strikes. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when they refused to allow opera great Marian Anderson (a Black woman) to perform at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C.  France banned the guillotine. DDT was developed. Albert Einstein advised Franklin Roosevelt regarding the possibilities of an atomic bomb. Pope Pius XII congratulated Generalissimo Francisco Franco on his victory in Spain. King Faisal II took over in Iraq. Mahatma Gandhi began fasting in India as a form of peaceful protest against the British.  The Massachusetts legislature finally ratified the U. S.  Bill of Rights.  Also tardy, Connecticut followed suit a short time later. The New York World’s Fair welcomed visitors. Wilbur Shaw won the Indianapolis 500. The Baseball Hall of Frame opened.  Lou Gehrig retired, announced his illness. He suffered a disease that would later bear his name. Batman was introduced.  Superman first appeared in the newspapers. Frank Sinatra cut his first record.  In music, most of the Top Ten spots were held by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, including “Over the Rainbow.”  Larry Clinton’s “Deep Purple” and “Beer Barrel Polka” by Will Giahé were exceptions.  The Academy Award for the previous year’s best movie went to You Can’t Take It With You.  Both Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz premiered this year. It was a great year for soon-to-be film classics.  Others were Dark Victory, Wuthering Heights, and Goodbye Mr. Chips.  The Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings for The Yearling. Other books that appeared that year: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, All This And Heaven Too by Rachel Field, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Wickford Point by John P. Marquand, Escape by Ethel Vance and Disputed Passage by Lloyd C. Douglas.  Some major figures passed away in 1939.  Among them were William Butler Yeats, Sigmund Freud, Zane Grey, S. S. Van Dine and Ford Madox Ford.  Among those born were Tina Turner, Ian McKellen, Seamus Heaney, Ralph Lauren, Marvin Gaye, John Cleese, Harvey Keitel, Phil Spector, and Lily Tomlin. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the earth rabbit?