Reading Instead of Writing

Good Day for Reading
What I Did This Summer

No, I did commit any murders along with a bunch of my friends. In fact, I did not do anything illegal except maybe for a small amount of public intoxication….But I wasn’t apprehended so that is that. What I did do is work at various labor jobs through a temp service and read a bunch of books. Most readers could probably care less what kind of work I did, so instead I am posting my reading list along with a few comments about each book.

The List

1 & 2. Rum Punch and Cuba Libre

Since my first two books of the summer were novels by a novelist, who just passed away last week, I thought I would cover them both with the same passage. If you haven’t guessed the nwriter yet — shame on you — for it’s Elmore Leornard who just passed away last week. And the two books are Cuba Libre and Rum Punch.

And yes I did read these two fine novels back in May and June before Elmore passed away. Cuba Libre was fascinating romp by a couple of off-the-wall Americans mercanaries in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. It’s one of the books that put Mr. Leornard on the literary map, but I have to admit I enjoyed Rum Punch even more. The spicy Miami characters in this first-rate crime novel come to life convincingly in this classic Elmore Leornard novel. Perhaps one of his best.

3. Shakedown by Gerald Petievich

A suprisingly good read by an ex-law-enforcement officer. This book has a great opening and after the initial scene, the author never lets the reader down. Set in L.A. and Las Vegas, the Shakedown is some very good crime fiction writing.

4. How To Murder a Millionaire by Nancy Martin

The Blackbird sisters are Nancy Martin’s newest literary creations. There are three of them with Nora being the main focus of this mystery/comedy set in fashionable Philadelphia. There’s a lot to love here as author Martin leads the the reader through the cozy upper-class world of Philadelphia’s Main Line, looking for the person, who murdered the wealthy art collector and family friend. If the other Blackbird Sisters stories are as good as this one, they are definitely worth a read.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Somehow I made it through high school and college withoutn being required to read this classic from “The Jazz Age.” This short novel (only 200 pages) has by now become an American classic. Centered around a destuctive love triangle, which includes a Mr. Jay Gatsby, this tragedy still stands tall among American literature. I read this novel as a prelude to the movie release, but never made it to the silver screen to catch the lavish tale from the “Roaring Twenties.” Guess I’ll have to watch the DVD instead.

6. The Drifting Cowboy by Will James

Though born as Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault in Quebec, Canada, Will James came to the West in the early part of the twentieth century and lived a fascinating life as a cowboy, Hollywood stuntman, livestock rustler, author and visual artist. I found this book in the library of the Sioux Falls mission and enjoyed the short read immensely. For lovers of the “Old West”, there are a least a dozen titles put out by this unique writer and published by the Tumbleweed Press in Montana.

7. A Hole In Texas by Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk published A Hole In Texas in 2004 at the ripe old age of 88. It is a fictional story surrounding the partial building of the Supercollider in Texas during the 90s. Ultimately, the project was abandoned, hence the title. The story surrounds one nuclear physicist, his wife and an old female colleague from China, who shows up in the USA to testify in front of Congress. Even a short visit from the world renown scientist is enough to create some serious marital discord the American physicist.

8. The House On Mango Street by Susan Cisneros

This super short book about the author’s childhood neighborhood in Chicago has become an international classic….and rightly so, for it is written in a beautiful experimental prose style that will enthrall the reader’s heart. Ciscerno’s short vignettes on growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood are priceless.

9. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

This is the my first book by the Japanese master and it definitely won’t be the last. Usually, I don’t take well to translated fiction, but Murakami’s writing reads like it was written by a native speaker. Actually, I have learned recently that this is not far from the truth, for Haruki Murakami sometimes works as an English to Japanese translator. He just doesn’t do it for his own writing. Through this collection of short stories, the writer takes the reader to some incredible places, even though they may at first appear very mundane.

10. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman

This is my one non-fiction entry for this post. Even though the book was published 15 years ago, Friedman’s firsthand experiences in Lebanon and Israel still serve as excellent background material for understanding today’s conflicts in the region. I read this first person account of life in the two cities back in late July, but since then events in Syria and Egypt have made the information even more pertinent.

Reading Instead of Writing

Since abandoning most of my writing activities for the past several months, I have felt more relaxed and at ease with the world around me. Never mind that my online e-book sales have dropped right off the charts, and I have failed to sell any articles or short stories since April, for I still feel for refreshed and energized when I now look at a blank sheet of paper with pen in hand. Plus, I have enjoyed my extended reading period. I hope that when I again avail myself to the craft of writing, I will feel thoroughly refreshed by the summer hiatus.

Leornard’s Legacy

Remembering Elmore Leornard

When I first became interesting in the writings of Elmore Leornard, I had a hard time finding his books in the bookstore because I could not get his name straight. I was always looking for a man named Leornard Elmore…and I was perusing the Literature section instead of Crime Fiction or Mystery, which is where you will usually find this writer’s works. It took a long time to get used to the idea that his last name was actually Leornard.

Devoted to Detroit

Perhaps one of the most interesting things noted about the late author is his dedication to the city of Detroit. Though born in the “Big Easy”, Leornard spent most of his life in and around the Motor City. He attended high school in the city and also graduated from the University of Detroit in 1950 with a degree in English philosophy. Even after Elmore Leornard became successful, he chose to live in one o Detroit’s more modern suburbs, Bloomfield Hills. No wonder Leornard is often referred to as the “Dickens of Detroit”.

My Experience With the Dickens of Detroit

Though Elmore Leornard had been on writer’s radar for many years, it was only in the most recent year or two that I had become familiar with his writing. And that began with viewing the movie, “Get Shorty”. My main impression after seeing “Get Shorty” was that the author was from the LA area. And then I read “Rum Punch” and figured he was from Miami. Next there was “Cuba Libre”, which upon completion had me convinced that Mr. Leornard was actually of Cuban descent. Overall I can’t think of a better skill for a writer, than that of adapting to whatever place he (or she) may find themselves.

My Favorite Elmore Leornard Quotes

“I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

Question: What kind of writing pays best?
Answer: Ransom notes.
from Get Shorty

Never open a book with weather.

These are just a few to wet your whistle. Actually for a writer who was so known for his dialogue, there were not many quotes to be found easily, except for those dealing with writing.

So long for now.

Winter In The Soul, A Cool Appraisal of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Charles River
looking towards towards Cambridge, winter on the Charles River

“It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls. A world of cold dawns and dour sleuths. A world of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.”        Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune.

So writes Julia Keller in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, as she shares some thoughts  on the rise of the popular genre, most obvious by the rapid success of  Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and subsequent movie deals both in Europe and America.

There is an interesting blog located right here on wordpress that is solely devoted to the subject of Scandinavian Crime Fiction. This would include any writer from the nations of Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. There are as many as a dozen names, few of which would ring a bell with American readers or the American public. You can go to this blog and find out who is publishing what and where. Also you will find some interesting  comments and insights on why this part of the world has become the hotbed of the genre, because the perceived image of Scandinavia is that this is a place where a crime fiction writer would fine little inspiration because the murder rate s so low. But just like crossing a frozen lake on a cold winter’s day, there may be more trouble ahead than one realizes for there may be a current underneath the ice or a spring creating a thin spot; and if you fall through the ice in the middle of February in Northern Sweden you chances of survival are grim.

winter light
snow and shadows

But just as northern Minnesota was a great setting for a murder mystery in the film Fargo, so has Scandinavia merged to provide the setting for quite a few murder mysteries.  Although not really known as a crime fiction writer, Peter Hoeg may have set the scene for the emergence of this popular genre with his murder mystery Smyla’s Sense of Snow. He may have also opened the door to the reality the life in Scandinavia may be overrated a bit, for there are real conflicts between industrialization and the search for a comfortable life, a point that is very well underscored at least in the film.

So on these long January nights, while your curled up on the sofa next to the warm glow of a wood fire in the fireplace, you might want to pick on of the many offerings that are now being translated into English. But don’t forget that this part of the world has a summer time also and one with very long days and short nights; so short that in some places the sun only sets for a few hours each night during late June, when the summer solstice occurs.

As a subtle reminder of the summer warmth here is a picture of a fence that borders a park in Copenhagen, Denmark. The fence has been painting with all kinds of colorful and joyous animals. Of particular note is that the park is located just across the street from Christiana, an unique part of the city that was taken over and homesteaded by hippies in the 1970’s.

So long forom the snow-covered rocky coat of Maine,


Everett Autumn

forest graffitti
animal graffitti in Copenhagen, Denmark

Eva Gabrielsson’s Dilemma

The Millennium Trilogy

With growing movie rights and expanding book sales the Millennium trilology, a series of three crime novels written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson is generating a huge world wide interest that has traveled far beyond his native home of Sweden. Now that the new year has arrived, sales from this popular literary series continue to climb, but unfortunately the crime writer, who died of a heart attack six years ago was never able to see the fruits of his workaholic writing habit, which now surpasses 20 million (that’s in pounds). Besides the money there are the numerous awards that have been bestowed upon the popular writer, as well as a host of film and TV versions, including a Hollywood offering, which has yet to select its cast. The Swedish version has already played all across Europe.

However, the story that has been making the rounds lately, and especially since we have entered a new year, is the human drama that surrounds the vast profits., Since Larsson died in 2oo4 and he never made out a will, all the money (that’s 20 million and still growing) has gone to his brother and father.

Currently written reports have been surfacing about the fate of Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson’s longtime partner, who never married Stieg, reportedly because of the dangerous nature of Larsson’s journalistic work. Check out Stieg Larsson: Losing the plot over his cash an article published late last year by London’s Times Online and written by Helen Rumbelow.

Just recently another article published by another British online biggie, The Mail, has also delved into the peculiar financial situation that is evolving around the rather large sum of profits that the trilogy has generated and will continue to do so long into the future. This article, entitled The Girl Who Didn’t Inherit A Fortune by Antonia Hoyle was just published online a few days ago and has been generating lots of interest on the web.

And finally,  for those readers and movie fans, who would like to help out Ms. Gabrielsson in her legal battle for a portion of the sales, here is a site, where you can do just that, plus keep tabs on the developing situation, for their are even rumors of a fourth unfinished novel.

Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden

Christopher Hitchens Sounds Off On Swedish Crime Fiction

Swedish Movie Poster
Swedish Movie Poster for Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Here is the Swedish movie poster for The Girl With The Golden Tattoo, which has already been released to Scandinavian audiences at the cinema and also on DVD (Swedish only). Meanwhile back here in the states, Hollywood has purchased rights for the story, but has yet to reach the casting stage for the film.  The movie comes from a novel written by the recently-deceased (2004) Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, who is currently taking the literary world of crime fiction by storm with his recent release of a crime trilogy, of which this book is the first. Also available in English (or soon to be) are The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Does Anybody see a trend here.

Recently, Stieg Larsson made headlines by picking top awards at the U.S mystery convention, Boucheron. In fact Scandinavian Crime Fiction has become the talk of the literary world, most evident that noted author and TV commentator, Christopher Hitchens, who has sounded off on the late Mr. Larsson with a recent article in Vanity Fair. Christopher does an excellent job of delving into the dark side of Swedish life and the emergence or rather the continual presence of extreme right and pro Nazi forces in modern day Sweden. Anyone, who thinks this Nordic country is a poster advertisement for idyllic Socialist life should definitely read Mr. Hitchens article and maybe even one of Mr. Larsson’s lengthy novels as well.

Dont’ forget that in the mid-eighties Sweden lost a prime minister to assassination, a crime which still has not been solved. During this era, Stieg Larsson was a reporter who wrote about Sweden’s undercurrent of drug dealings, criminals and right wing extremists, who survived and sometimes thrived in the industrial Scandinavian nation. Some readers attribute Larsson’s death at age 50 to evil forces, especially since it occurred on November 9th, the date of Hitler’s Kristallnacht, but many more suggest his death was the result of extreme overwork, chain smoking and poor nutrition. Whatever the cause of demise, the trilogy of books is causing quite a stir, not to mention that each written piece will generate a movie, both in Sweden and the U.S.

Picture of the swedisn author
Picture of the swedisn author

One important note is that Stieg had plans for at least ten full-length novels, but in reality did not get past the first three. Still, considering the length of each piece, this is quite an accomplishment in itself and I’m sure that his readers will immensely enjoy the published effort.

In recent years, Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) have seen a bountiful cultural resurgence not only in literature, but also in contemporary and traditional music. Perhaps, it is the recent economic surge that has come to these northern countries or maybe it is the awakening of  old flames and aspirations. But no matter what the reason for the cultural expression,  the authors and musicians of this small corner of the world do not seem to be finished with their current creative mood.