Sunday, October 30, 2011

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard (Arbor House 1983)

He told her Aperture magazine had contacted him about doing a book. Call it South Beach. Get all the old people, the art deco look. He was working on it now. No, he was thinking about it more than he was working on it. He wanted to do it. He wouldn't mind having a coffee-table book on his coffee table. It seemed strange though--ask thirty or forty dollars for a book full of pictures of people who'd never see it, never be able to afford it.

"At the gallery they sip wine and look at my pictures. They say things like, 'I see his approach to art as retaliation, a frontal attack against the assumptions of a technological society.'

"They say, 'His work is a compendium of humanity's defeat at the hands of venture capital.'

"They say, 'It's obvious he sees his work as an exorcism, his forty days in the desert.' Or, another one, 'They're self-portraits. He sees himself as dispossessed, unassimilated.'

"The review in the paper said, 'The aesthetic sub-text of his work is the systematic exposure of artistic pretension.' I thought I was just taking pictures."

Jean Shaw said, "Simplicity. It is what it is." Then paused. "And what it isn't, too. Is that what you're saying?"

He didn't want her to try so hard. "I heard one guy at the gallery--it was his wife or somebody who said I was dispossessed, unassimilated, and the guy said, 'I think he takes pictures to make a buck, and anything else is fringe.' I would've kissed the guy, but it might've ruined his perspective."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1985)

A wire fence separated the Bajan sculptor's garage apartment and yard from the Robert E. Lee housing project. At least thirty black kids were playing some kind of grab-ass on the other side of the fence. They came over to the fence to stare at Hoke while he pulled into the narrow backyard and parked. There was a huge sculpture of a birdlike creature in the yard, blocking the way to the closed door of the garage. The wings were fashioned from automobile fenders, and the body was formed with welded auto parts. The "bird" had been painted with red rustproofing primer, and its eyes were red glas taillights. The eyes were unlighted, and Hoke wondered for a moment if the sculptor would wire them for electricity when he was finished with the sculpture. He then realized that he didn't give a shit what the sculptor decided to do, because he would never have to look at it again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Step Lively, Jeeves! (1937)

King of the Streets by John Baker (1998)

At first glance she was a nice old lady, but when you got to give her another look you saw right away that she was weird. Something about her walk, perhaps? The way she nodded her head from side to side or kept glancing back at the passing cars? There was nothing immediately wrong about the way she was dressed. Cal could see colours on these new closed circuit screens, still hadn't got used to it; rust colour to her print skirt, maroon cardigan hanging from her shoulders, draped. Looking closer he could make out strong leather shoes, hair permed and reminiscent of the forties, stiff with setting lotion, tight little kiss curls framing the upper part of her face. No, he was remembering his grandmother. The screens did that to you sometimes, gave a fairly good outline and somehow forced your imagination to fill in the details.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011



Hat tip to Robin H. over at Facebook for bringing Matt Bors excellent cartoons to my attention.

SPGB makeover

The SPGB's website has had a revamp so it's your perfect excuse to check out their website again after all these years.

I'll be busy repairing all the broken links on the blog that go back quite a few years. *grumble, grumble*.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Death Minus Zero by John Baker (Gollancz 1996)

He led them over to a Scorpio Auto on the other side of the car park. Blue job with black leather inside. Norman checked through the window to make sure there was some sound equipment inside. Using his bent coat hanger he had the thing open in about ninety seconds.

"How do you do that?" the youngest wigger asked.

 Norman locked the car again and fitted his wire hook down inside the window frame. He fiddled for a moment, said, "Now you try."

The youngest wigger took hold of the coat hanger and jiggled it about.

"Just about there," Norman said. "You feel the little lever inside? Don't pull so hard. That's right, you can feel it moving."

 "Yeah. I got it," the kid said.

 "OK," Norman told him. "Push the handle in and pull it up slowly."

The door of the Scorpio opened. "Easier than a can of sardines," Norman said. He told the eldest kid to get his bag from the BMW. When he brought it Norman shoved it in the back of the Scorpio. "And the Tina Turner tape," he said.

"I've got something else to teach you," he said to the youngest wigger.

"What's that?" The kid was eager to learn everything this character could show him.

"Put your back here," Norman said, pointing to the door of a VW Camper. "And hold the door handle with both hands."

The kid did as he was told.

Norman came over and stood in front of him. "You got hold of it with both hands?" Norman asked.

The kid nodded and Norman butted him hard in the face. The little wigger dropped like a stone. His friend ran off down the car park, putting about seventy yards between himself and Norman. "You're a fast learner," Norman told him. The little wigger was sitting on the concrete shaking his head from side to side.

 "That's the best lesson you've had today," Norman told him, retrieving his hundred and twenty pounds from the kid's pocket. "Don't forget it."

Norman left him there, got behind the wheel of the Scorpio and wired it to go. He waved to the elder wigger as he drove on past, slammed Tina into the tape deck, and stuck a chicken sandwich into his mouth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cutting Room by Laurence Klavan (Ballantine Books 2004)

The call that changed my life did not come from Jody. It came from Alan Gilbert, perhaps the most petty of all the "trivial" men I knew.

Alan was a few years older than me. For money, he wrote the capsule descriptions of movies in the TV section of one of the New York City tabloids. ("Gone with the Wind, 1939, Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable. Gal survives the Civil War." You know what I mean.) But his real love was his own public-access TV show - the half hour paid for with most of the salary from his day job - called My Movies.

On the show, Alan sat in his tiny East Village apartment and showed forgotten clips from old films, censored scenes, short subjects not seen for forty years, early pornography, and the like. Occasionally, Alan went on location to interview forgotten actors or cult directors. Mostly, though, it was just Alan, his cameraman - fellow trivial fellow Gus Ziegler - a shabby chair, a projector, a screen, a TV, and that was it. The show ran about twenty times during the week - on channel 297 or something - and chances are, if you've ever flicked around at four in the morning, you've seen him.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poet in the Gutter by John Baker (St. Martin's Press 1995)

Sam went to the men’s group because it was winter and cold in the flat, and because he was off the booze, and because another marriage had gone bust. There’s this place runs groups of all kinds, every night of the week. It cost ninety pence to get in, and that particular night Sam had the choice of Esperanto or the men’s group or going back on the booze. He walked in on them and sat down in the circle. They were talking about fairy stories and Iron John and about how women were in touch with the earth and men in the twentieth century were alienated. Sam thought about switching to Esperanto or walking fifty yards down the road for a beer and chaser. But he stayed put.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Believe in the Sign by Mark Hodkinson (Pomona 2007)

Back then mums and dads didn't go in for quality time or anything so fey with their kids. They lived their lives (whatever that involved) and you were left to yours. You could play football in the street. Or lie flat on a railway sleeper floating through a culvert on the canal. Or you could follow the motorway for miles on the other side of the fence, passing through factory units and farm yards. Or you could see who could jump furthest down concrete steps on the stairwells at Ashfield Valley flats, carrying the whimpering victor home later. Or you could get out your bike and ride to Hollingworth Lake where the tougher kids, knees knocking, chins trembling, waded out into the icy blue, fearful of gigantic child-eating pikes.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories by Katha Pollitt (Random House 2007)

I should say that it was only for me that Marxism seemed over. Surely, I would tell G. at least once a week, it had to count for something that every single self-described Marxist state had turned into an economically backward dictatorship. Irrelevant, he would reply. The real Marxists weren't the Leninists and Stalinist and Maoists - or the Trotskyists either, those bloodthirsty romantics - but libertarian anarchist-socialists, people like Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, Karl Korsch, scholarly believers in true workers' control who had labored in obscurity for most of the twentieth century, enjoyed a late-afternoon moment in the sun after 1968 when they were discovered by the New Left, and had now once again fallen back into the shadows of history, existing mostly as tiny stars in the vast night of the Internet, archived on blogs with names like Diary of a Council Communist and Break Their Haughty Power. They were all men. The group itself was mostly men.

This was, as Marxists used to say, no accident. There was something about Marxist theory that just did not appeal to women. G. and I spent a lot of time discussing the possible means for this. Was it just that women don't allow themselves to engage in abstract speculation, as he thought? That Marxism is incompatible with feminism, as I sometimes suspected? Or perhaps the problem was not Marxism but Marxists: in its heyday men had kept a lock on it as they did on everything they considered important; now, in its decline, Marxism had become one of those obsessive lonely-guy hobbies, like collecting stamps or 78s. Maybe, like collecting, it was related , through subterranean psychological pathways, to sexual perversions, most of which seemed to be male as well. You never hear about a female foot fetishist, or a woman like the high-school history teacher of a friend of mine who kept dated bottles of his own urine on a closet shelf.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Quote of the Day

"‎Billionaires are just salt of the earth that they own salt mines, and much of the earth, and some people" -S. Colbert

Hat tip to Brad over at Facebook.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (Rosetta Books 1936)

To his surprise Iris changed the subject.

"What sort of brain have you?" she asked.

"Fair to middling, when it's lubricated. It works best on beer."

Could you write a detective thriller?"

"No. Can't spell."

"But could you solve one?"

"Every time."

"Then suppose you give me a demonstration. You've been very clever in proving Miss Froy could not exist. But - if she did - could you find out what might have happened to her? Or is it too difficult?"

Hare burst out laughing.

"I used to think," he said, "that if ever I liked a girl, I'd be cut out by some beautiful band conductor with waved hair. I'm hanged if I thought I'd have to play second fiddle to an ancient governess. Time's revenge, I suppose. Long ago, I bit one. And she was a good governess . . . . Well, here goes."