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This Month's Articles

REVIEWING

Wilson

By A. Scott Berg

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

book jacket

Woodrow Wilson

I was all ready predisposed to reviewing A. Scott Berg’s latest biography, this one on President Woodrow Wilson, entitled appropriately, Wilson, and was not deterred by the hefty 743 pages.

When I was teaching the history of American Film at a number of universities, I made his book, Goldwyn: A Biography, required reading. I thought it was a well-written, deeply researched look at how early Hollywood developed.

Reading Wilson, with A. Scott Berg’s considerable narrative skills in full display once again, I was drawn back to a subject that has always held the greatest interest for me for most of my adult life: the two narratives of American history (there is also a third one), one white, the other black.

One: “The Shining City on the Hill”; the other: “Behold, the Iceman cometh. Beware, destroyer of worlds.”

And no one in American history best embodies both of these worlds better than Woodrow Wilson.

This is also the third book on American Presidents I have reviewed.....Read More



REVIEWING

The Specialist: The Costa Rica Job

By Charles Peterson Sheppard

Reviewed by Robert Fleming

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Sometimes there are books that should have been embraced by a powerful traditional publisher, with substantial distribution and effective marketing. This novel, The Specialist: The Costa Rica Job, penned by Los Angeles writer Charles Peterson Sheppard, deserved such a worthy fate; but that was not the case.

That’s a shame, because The Specialist, by the first time author, is chocked full of those good, action-packed ingredients of the tough, hardboiled American covert-action thriller which currently fill our nation’s bookshelves.

Recovering from a botched assignment in Costa Rica, The Specialist suffered serious injuries inflected in a caper involving Aguilera, a corrupt cop, and his drug cronies. Our hero was stomped into unconsciousness before they stripped him of his wallet and passport, and abandoned him in a dingy town in Panama.

While catching his breath on the mend, he rents an office in Santa Monica, but a half-year was.....Read More



REVIEWING

The Sound of Things Falling

By Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Reviewed by Janet Garber

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The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling

The narrator, Antonio (Tony)  Yammara, catches up with an  acquaintance, Riccardo LaVerde, on the street in Bogota just minutes before the latter is gunned down by unknown assailants. Standing next to him, Tony survives but suffers grievous injuries, the most serious and lasting being a case of debilitating and unremitting post traumatic stress.  The year is 1996.

Tony becomes more and more obsessed with LaVerde, who up to then has appeared as a broken down shell of a man, rumored to have spent twenty years in prison, a man he encounters regularly at the local billiards hall.  All he knows about the man’s life is that LaVerde’s American wife was coming to reunite with him in Bogota when the plane she was on inexplicably crashed in the mountains. 

Tony tracks down LaVerde’s landlady, then his .....Read More



REVIEWING

Stay Up With Me

By Tom Barbash

Reviewed by Sally Cobau

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The Anti-Epiphany

Is it just a coincidence that after reading Tom Barbash’s remarkable collection of short stories Stay Up With Me, I actually did stay up?  Like many a good book, or work of art, the book left me with a residue of feeling that (in this case) kept me tossing and turning.

I will not say that I had an “epiphany,” precisely because Barbash works with the anti-epiphany.  There are “moments,” but those moments are undercut by the scorn, ineptitude, and mere disinterest of the characters.

He carefully sets the reader up—these characters are going to feel something BIG—and boom! The moment is squashed by either the numbness or the fragility of the characters.  The characters have reached a point where they can’t be reached, not for a long shot.

This is the case with the protagonist, a teenaged boy, in the story “Howling at the Moon.”  In this story, Lou gets caught up in the lives of his stepfather’s children.  Their lives appear richer than the solitary life Lou and his mother have been living after the death of his older brother.

His stepsiblings are an arty crew, playing sax, refinishing chairs, rehearsing plays—all the while on vacation in Maine.  Eventually Lou reveals his secret to them—that he inadvertently caused his brother’s death.

.....Read More



ESSAY

I HAVE A SPLEEN!

An essay by M. J. Moore

Norman Mailer

At the March on Washington fifty years ago, author Norman Mailer ended up feeling bored and indifferent; so he wandered off at day’s end.  No joke.

The postwar author most often lionized as “a prophet” regarding America’s tumult in the 1960s drifted off and willfully missed (remember, there were printed programs) the capstone feature: Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in all of its 18-minute climactic glory.  Granted, no one knew that on that day MLK’s speech would congeal and consolidate (he’d delivered variations of it in churches and at other rallies) in such a way that now, fifty years later, it’s commonly called the 20th-century’s greatest speech.  But, still.  On August 28, 1963, even before his speech was articulated, Dr. King was already a legendary figure (only one year shy of.....Read More



A WRITER'S WORLD

A Writer's World

How to Change Your Point of View

By Molly Moynahan

The genius of American culture and its integrity comes from fidelity to the light.

"Plain as day, we say. Happy as the day is long. Early to bed, early to rise. American virtues are daylight virtues: honesty, integrity, plain speech. We say yes when we mean yes and no, when we mean no, and all else comes from the evil one. America presumes innocence and even the right to happiness.”

Richard  Rodriguez:  Frontiers, Night and Day.    

The hardest element of fiction writing for me to grasp or explain to my students was usually Point-of-View. The I, you, he, she part wasn’t very complicated but the choice stymied me and I kept writing everything in third person limited even though John Gardener described that POV as chickening out of first person.

I wrote my teenage narrator novel in first person because her voice was in my head and she just kept talking.  Basically, she sounded like a middle-aged woman remembering what it felt like to be that age.

Reviewers were kind but I had few illusions.

I bring this up because I am currently teaching English in Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, and feel I have had my point-of-view knocked sideways. Let’s face it; I am always a westerner, a woman, a certain age and a certain level of.....Read More



REVIEWING

Frederick the Great

By Nancy Mitford

Reviewed by Jane M McCabe

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Frederick the Great is not a new book—it was first published in 1970 and just has been re-released in paperback by the New York Review of Books. From its introduction by Liesl Schillinger: “In 1969, Nancy Mitford, the sparkling, supercilious British debutante turned novelist, began work on a biography of Frederick the Great, the eighteenth-century Prussian king who outfoxed the combined forces of France, England, Russian and the Holy Roman Empire to make Prussia master of Germany. The reader who opens this book may wonder what attracted an apolitical Francophile socialite to a fearsome Teuton whose foes reviled him as a ‘monster,’ a ‘sodomite,’ and ‘the compleatest tyrant that God ever sent for a scourge’; and whose friends, notably the French sage Voltaire, could be almost as uncomplimentary. Mitford and “der alte Fritz” (as his soldiers called him) hardly sound like a natural pairing.”

How does the saying go? It takes one to know one. For, Ms Mitford, no slouch herself, recognized in Frederick a greatest that made him unique among monarchs. It’s a pleasure to read a biography of a worthy subject written by a writer who had the wit, elegance, and insight that allowed her to consolidate information of lesser importance into.....Read More



ESSAY

Thinking About Diversity

An essay by Fred Beauford

Excerpt from The First Decade: Essays 2000-2010
Los Angeles, 2003

Andrew W. Thornhill is one of those human types novelists love. You can follow him around endlessly. He can easily fill up many colorful pages. Just giving him his proper due with a well-thought-out, elaborate introduction, can go on, and on, and on, and on, page after endless page.

He is a slightly over-sized, light brown skinned man with a large mustache that covers most of his upper lip. He is also full of bluster and self-importance, and can just as easily fill-up a room with the same ease he fills up the pages of a novel.

And, unlike countless others like him, he is blessed with a highly intelligent mind, filled with obscure bits of information that he artfully uses to its best advantage.

"What!" he might suddenly say, grazing at you with a look of absolute disbelief, "You didn't know that term limits was really the Willie Brown law?"

Pity the poor, uninformed fool who crosses his path!

But, if you look a little closer at Thornhill, you can spot through all the attempts at intimidation and generally know-it-all-ness—a twinkle in his light brown eyes—his little wink to you that only a part of him is serious.

I hadn’t seen him in years. Yet here he was in downtown Los Angeles, in March of 2003, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street giving a lecture before a small audience.

Thornhill had moved to Seattle about ten years ago, after living in the Southland for years, surprising everyone, including me.

Now that our paths had crossed once more, I asked him after his well-presented lecture on the future of television, how did he like living in Seattle?

“It’s the most racist place I have ever lived,” he answered straight-out, without a.....Read More



PORTFOLIO

Portfolio:

by Kara Fox

Wishing you a sweet October

Photo by Kara Fox
photo of pastries


REVIEWING

Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade

By Virginia Lynn Moylan

Reviewed by Brenda M. Greene

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 “Never mind that she died with her books out of print and was buried in an unmarked grave, Hurston and her literary contributions were destined to be central to the canon of African American, American and women’s literature.” (Moylan 161)

A spirited and soulful writer, Zora Neale Hurston, writer, anthropologist and folklorist created a legacy of novels, short stories, plays, folklore and essays.  Refusing to succumb to the traditional mores of society, she charted new directions for her life and life’s work. However, she died in obscurity in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1960.

Alice Walker’s essay,   “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" was a defining moment in lifting Hurston from obscurity and reviving interest in a writer who has since become part of the canon of literature. Deborah Moylan’s research on Hurston is the most recent scholarship in providing the public with a fuller and more in-depth understanding of Zora, a woman who some have called a spirit warrior.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade, Virginia Lynn Moylan, an educator and independent scholar, convincingly writes of the .....Read More



REVIEWING

The Fire Witness

By Lars Kepler

Translated by: Laura A. Wideburg
Read by: Mark Bramhall

Reviewed by Michael Carey

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Lars Kepler the bestselling literary couple out of Sweden is in top form with the third installation of their Joona Linna series, The Fire Witness. In this crime mystery novel, Joona has to solve an eerie double homicide at a home for troubled girls.

The caretaker is murdered in the old brewery on the grounds the same night one of the girls has her head smashed in and is placed carefully in her bed with her hands over her eyes. Another of the girls staying in the home, Vicky, flees her bloody room and goes on the run, kidnapping a four year old boy in the process.

Joona is under investigation from his previous adventures, most likely in Kepler’s The Nightmare, and has his wings clipped being a simple observer in the murder investigations. But if there are two things we learn about Joona in The Fire Witness, they are he has a keen set of detective skills and Joona Linna doesn’t give up.

He sifts through odd leads and mismatching bits of evidence, tracking down Vicky’s past. Even after the case is considered closed, Joona continues.....Read More