Category Archives: Books

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Graham Greene

Graham Greene blurred the lines between literary and genre fiction. He was fascinated with the criminal element and spies but had an elegant prose style. He was quite simply one of the best writers of the mid-20th Century.

Here’s  a selection of some of Greene’s pulpier book covers:

Greene’s fertile brain also came up with the story and screenplay of The Third Man, which is one of the greatest films ever made.

Quote Of The Day: Stay Up Late

Joshua Green’s new book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, is the gift that keeps on giving. This is the third time I’ve quoted from it. I guess that means I should pick up a copy at some point unless someone wants to send me a freebie, that is.

It’s obvious that Bannon was one of Green’s main sources, especially of a story like this one about Paul Manafort and the Insult Comedian:

 After Trump decided to demote his campaign chair Paul Manafort, who drew negative attention to the campaign as reporters scrutinized his previous work for Ukrainian politicians with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump blew up at Manafort over a New York Times report that portrayed the candidate as intractable and inarticulate.

“How can anybody allow an article that says your campaign is all fucked up?” Trump shouted at Manafort, according to Green.

Trump demanded to know whether aides thought they had to make television appearances to communicate with him.

“You think you’ve gotta go on TV to talk to me?” Trump shouted. “You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch TV and you talk to me? Am I a fucking baby, Paul?”

I’m sure Manafort was tempted to say yes but opted not to. There was still money to be grifted as a result of his ties to the candidate and Manafort is all about the money. Plus, he had his very own Trump toddler tantrum. Lucky him.

There’s another swell quote from Green’s book. I never thought I’d agree with Bannon on anything but this is the exception to that rule:

According to Green, Bannon also waged his assault-by-epithet aloud in Breitbart’s Washington, D.C. headquarters: He described the House speaker as “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation,” a conservative think tank Bannon said was too close to the “globalist donor class.”

Nice imagery, Steve. We already knew that you and Ryan weren’t close.

Back to Trump’s “do you think I’m a fucking baby” rant. It gave me a benign earworm as well as a post title:

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Devil Rides Out

The infernal New Orleans summer heat has me in a devilish mood. Hence this cover.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Dally With A Deadly Doll

It’s another entry chosen for its lurid title. They resisted the temptation to use Dolly instead of Doll. I’m not sure that I could have.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Anything Goes

Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen by Leonora Carrington, 1975.

It was a weird week in New Orleans. It was oddly quiet as everyone hunkered down for a storm that had minimal impact in the city. I spent a lot of time with Oscar and Della. I’m glad to report that they’re fine. They’re used to hanging around the house and sleeping incessantly. Nobody does it better, not even Bond.

I spent some time this week calling the offices of my Republican Senators about the abominable health care bill. I’m not sure what good it will do. Both of them know deep down that it’s bad legislation that will damage a poor state like Louisiana. I expect them to vote aye anyway: neither has the backbone to stand up to Chinless Mitch and the Trumper hordes. Repeat after me: I hope I’m wrong about this.

This week’s theme song reflects the climate of our national politics: “In olden days, a crooked Oval One was looked on as something shocking. Now heaven knows, anything goes. ” Cole Porter was one smart Hoosier Yalie. Boola boola, y’all.

We have two versions of Anything Goes for your enjoyment: the inevitable Sinatra as well as Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I’m gaga for Gaga even without the meat suit.

Now that we’ve established that:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today…

It’s time to insert the break and meet on the other side. It’s what Cole would have wanted.

Continue reading

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Donovan’s Brain

Curt Siodmak wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite Universal horror movies, The Wolf Man. He also wrote novels. Donovan’s Brain was his biggest hit as a writer. I think the original cover had something to do with its success.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Dark Wanton

Peter Cheyney was a British crime fiction writer who was very successful between 1936 and 1951. One reason was his “Dark” espionage series. Dark Wanton was one of that series. Given the fact that two of the people on the cover appear to be Chinese, it’s also a helluva pun on the word wonton. Rumor has it that I like puns.

 

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Tropical Disturbance

I wasn’t planning to post another Robert McGinnis cover. I stumbled into this one because it’s the first day of hurricane season. So it goes.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Robert McGinnis Meets Perry Mason

I wrote about artist Robert McGinnis at the end of April in a Saturday post. Here are two covers he did for Perry Mason novels. The feline Della Street approves.

Book Review: The Selected Letters Of John Kenneth Galbraith

Every once in a while I’m offered a review copy of a new book. It’s always flattering when someone is interested in what a mere internet wise ass has to say. This time around, I was contacted by Diana Rissetto of Cambridge University Press and offered a copy of The Selected Letters of John Kenneth Galbraith. I accepted with alacrity but it’s taken longer than expected to review this outstanding book. Ms. Rissetto has been as unfailingly patient as I have been dilatory. She also has a most amusing and witty Twitter feed, which is a plus. One can tell that I’ve finished the book because Galbraith’s style is contagious and this paragraph is redolent of it. It’s a good thing I’m under the spell of Ken Galbraith, not Pepe Le Pew. Le sigh of relief.

The British historian Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics the dismal science. Economists are not known for their prose style or sense of humor. It’s dry, dry stuff. John Kenneth Galbraith was an exception to that usually accurate rule. In fact, he’s one of my favorite writers of his era as he dabbled in writing outside his area; especially in the world of politics where he was a committed liberal Democrat with a wry sense of humor. No other economist ever made me laugh out loud, which I did repeatedly as I read this book.

The letters have been edited and annotated by Richard P.F. Holt. He did a smashing job ensuring that we know who Galbraith was corresponding with and why. I knew most of the names but there were some sleepers. Additionally, Holt has collected memos, speeches, and other non epistolary documents. Good job, sir.

Galbraith had an active sideline as an adviser to, among others, Adlai Stevenson, Jack Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and-until they broke it off over Vietnam-Lyndon Johnson. While Ambassador to India from 1961-63, Galbraith was dispatched to Vietnam by JFK and asked for his input. He offered it to his successor as well until Johnson ended the correspondence. It was a pity that LBJ was less receptive to Galbraith’s advice on that lamentable conflict than to his suggestions on domestic policy. If LBJ had listened, he might have been our greatest President.

In addition to his political side, The Selected Letters, dips a toe into Galbraith’s personal life.  Most interesting are his exchanges with Jackie Kennedy. They’re flirtatious on both sides without being OTT. Ken Galbraith would have made an excellent courtier, which he was by analogy. He offered the Kennedys his loyalty but it was never blind fealty. Galbraith believed in plain speaking wrapped in wit when corresponding with the Kennedys. It’s a pity that the Current Occupant is surrounded by nothing but yes men, relatives, and non-entities. He could also use a decent joke writer. Believe me.

Galbraith had some close friends on the other side of the political spectrum: Henry Luce, William F. Buckley, and fellow economist, Milton Friedman. Friedman was the godfather of Thatcherism and Reagonomics but his correspondence with the uber Keynesian Galbraith was respectful and, at times, hilarious. Friedman did a better job of hiding his puckish side than Galbraith so I enjoyed their exchanges inordinately. That’s another Galbraithian word. I seem to be turning into him. I hope I don’t become 6’8″ at my advanced age: none of my clothes will fit…

I’m not known for my adherence to chronology, so let’s circle back to Galbraith’s war-time activities with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS.) His letters home to his wife Kitty from 1945 are a must read for anyone interested in World War II. His service with the USSBS led to Galbraith being the only Harvard faculty member ever name checked by Pete Townshend in a Who song. Now that’s an honor.

Speaking of The Who, I considered reviewing this wonderful book as a Saturday Odds & Sods segment, but thought better of it. I think it’s time for a Galbraith revival. He was a witty and wise man who was usually right. He was an uncommonly good, decent, and intelligent human being; qualities we are badly in need of as we endure an uncommonly bad, indecent, and stupid administration*.

I highly recommend that y’all pick up a copy of The Selected Letters Of John Kenneth Galbraith. Ken Galbraith passed away in 2006 but he remains good company; pun intended, it always is. The only bad thing about finishing the book is that I will miss hearing his marvelously droll voice in my head as I read. For those of you unfamiliar with JKG’s cadence, here’s a 1986 interview with the man himself.

Who else but Ken Galbraith could possibly have the last word in this post?  That would be me. But I’ll use his typical epistolary closer, his Won’t Get Fooled Again as it were:

Yours Faithfully,

Adrastos

Quote Of The Day: Art Of The Creep Edition

The Insult Comedian spent the weekend in Saudi Arabia getting his ass kissed. It was his kind of visit. Tremendous. Believe me.

Saudi Arabia is perfect for Trump.  It’s a corrupt family dictatorship that subordinates women. Trump heaven except for that pesky Muslim thing. Of course, rich Muslims are okay in Trump World, which is a faraway kingdom built on bullshit and glitz. The purveyors of sweet Saudi crude also like the crude president* because he’s glad to sell them billions and billions in arms. Tremendous. Believe me.

It’s time to end the travelogue and get to the point of this post; a quote from a WaPo piece by Tony Schwartz with such a good title that I feel compelled to post it all: I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past:

 Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump would see no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and thereby undermining the statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying Trump’s psyche in the last two years. I have to give him credit for being sui generis. He’s a lizard man with bad hair. He’s cold-blooded and transactional in his dealings with others. I’ve had my share of arguments with people-including anti-Trumpers-who expect him to react with normal human emotions, other than rage, to a given situation. Not gonna happen, my friend. Emotions are reserved for himself and *occasionally* for his family. For all his superficial passion, he’s one of the coldest fish I’ve ever encountered albeit one with rageaholic tendencies and no impulse control. Holy toxic cocktail, Batman.

There was another interesting piece circulating on the internets this weekend: 4-Year-Olds-Don’t Act Like Trump. I agree with most of author Alison Gopnik’s premise about Trump lacking their better qualities.  BUT the Insult Comedian possesses all the WORST qualities of a small child (tantrums, selfishness, petulance) without any of their redeeming characteristics. It’s what makes him so dangerous. He needs to be put in an extended time-out, but his love of yes men makes that unlikely. That will be up to people *outside* his orbit. Let’s hope it happens before this damaged man can do even more damage to the country.

I’ll give Aimee Mann the last word with a repeat appearance of her bang-on trip into Trump’s psyche. It amounted to a cry for help from the then candidate. It’s a pity not enough people listened.

Tremendous. Believe me.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Made Up To Kill

This cover gives an entirely new meaning to the Britism green fingers. That’s green thumb to us Yanks. I have the opposite talent, a black thumb. I can kill a plant just by being within hailing distance. So it goes.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Coffin For A Cutie

It’s weirdo title time here at First Draft. A pin up girl on a coffin? Oy, just oy.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Maquis

It’s time for a rule bending PFT. Maquis by George Millar is not fiction. The cover, however, is as pulpy as all get out. I wanted to post something about the French resistance this week in the wake of my Vichy On The Potomac post. This is it.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Crime On My Hands

I’m not sure if Carl G. Hoges spun a “sensational suspense story” but the cover art and tagline are both swell.

MOAB DICK

Call me Ishmael. Call me anything; just don’t call me late when supper’s ready.

Last week’s astonishing series of Trump administration* foreign policy u-turns and flip flops convinced some in the MSM that the long-awaited PIVOT had come. The Insult Comedian actually got some positive press as the media drooled over the “beautiful” missiles that struck Syria. Lyin’ Brian actually out malaproped Gum Spice on that one. Instead of gushing over Trumpian manliness, the MSM should be worried about the erratic course this incompetent and incoherent administration* is steering. 

While many in the MSM became tumescent over Donald’s dick waving, those of us who do satire searched (groped?) for the right analogy. As you can see above, Dr. Strangelove references are popular with the madcap zanies at Wonkette. They got there first so that’s Slim Pickens for me. That’s when a military acronym exploded in my head: MOAB.

MOAB is, of course, military speak for the mother of all bombs. They’ve been around for a while but neither Bush nor Obama wanted to drop the very big one. The Donald is made of stupider stuff: how could he resist dropping the biggest non-nuclear bomb in history? It’s like being Dirk Diggler for a day. y’all. It *almost* made us forget his teeny, tiny hands. Almost.

MOAB was tailor-made for Trump. He’s just another boomer chicken hawk whose manhood is linked in his own mind with weaponry. Bombs are glimmering phalluses hence MOAB Dick. I have the feeling that the Insult Comedian never finished Moby Dick, so he might want to pick up one of these nifty comix. Cliff’s Notes are so un-presidential.

It’s from 1942, so it’s older and rarer than Trump-hab. His white whale was the White House, which has become such an Albatross that he spends every weekend at Mar-A-Lugee. We’re also treated to endless stories of the struggle between Bannon and young Jared as they vie to be Ishmael to Trump’s Ahab. The Melville character was the sole survivor of the Pequod and narrated Moby Dick. My money is on Jared. He married the boss’ daughter and gave the president* grandchirren. All Bannon gave him was the White House. Jared is blood. Blood trumps everything in Trump World: “Call me Jared. I survived.” He *is* a two-legged cockroach, after all.

Back to the dangerous situation caused by Trump’s face off with pipsqueak North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. They’re actually peas in a very crazy pod. Both will do *anything* for attention, which is why the Obama administration’s policy of’ “strategic patience” was a wise one. When a toddler pitches a tantrum at the dinner table, one can either ignore them or go the time-out route. Never give them what they want: attention and approval. That’s what the world needs to do with both of these baby men: put them in time-out.

Our Asian allies are noticeably unenthusiastic about toddler tantrum as policy:

Those in the US&A who would like a manly “preemptive strike” on North Korea forget the fact that it’s the Republic of Korea that will suffer the consequences. It’s a friendly nation, and has become a democracy during my lifetime. South Korea is going through a painful political scandal and has no appetite for Trumper dick waving. I wonder if he even knows about the impeachment and indictment of former President Park Guen-hye

The Darnold is a profoundly, indeed militantly, ignorant man. He was convinced until recently that China could order North Korea to knock it off.  Wrong.The Kim family dynasty have long been China’s crazy communist cousin. The PRC has influence but Kim Jong-un and his generals run the show in Pyongyang. I’m waiting for another overgrown toddler, Dennis Rodman, to revive wormplomacy and offer to serve as an intermediary.  The Insult Comedian might take him up on it: Rodman appeared on Celebrity Apprentice twice. I hear the ratings were better than on Arnold’s watch. Believe me.

Another thing strikes me about Trump’s new role as MOAB Dick to the world. He’s facing off with two family dynasties in Syria and North Korea. Perhaps that’s why he thinks he can solve these problems: he learned about dynastic power at Fred Trump’s dinner table. The Assads and the Kims, however, put the nasty in dynasty. They’re not going anywhere even though we all wish they would. It’s much harder than dealing with other developers, gangsters, Ed Koch, and Gary Busey. Believe me.

Team Trump’s effort in wagging the dog and distracting attention from their scandals has been surprisingly effective. It’s the only thing they’ve gotten right thus far, but the act isn’t going over very well in Seoul and Tokyo. It’s time for them to put the MOAB Dick back in their pants and zip it about North Korea. Twitplomacy won’t work any better than wormplomacy despite Rodman’s tremendous tattoos. Believe me.

I didn’t plan to write such a long post. I guess the Melville geist has taken hold. It’s time to meet Bartleby the Scrivener for coffee. I hope he doesn’t consider me the Melvillain of the piece…

Friday Catblogging: Bookish Cat

It’s time for another Della in a box picture. I believe my copy of Michael Tisserand’s Krazy came in this Barnes & Noble box. Della Street, however, is more of an Ignatz than a Krazy. It’s why we don’t let her near bricks.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Eunuch Of Stamboul

This post was inspired by the Pulp Librarian’s Twitter feed. I’d never heard of The Eunuch Of Stamboul before. It turns out to have been a wildly successful thriller that has been reprinted many times hence all the swell covers below.

That was a hardback edition. Let’s move on to the paperbacks but first it’s time to don a fez:

The book was made into a movie in 1936. They changed the title and made it less eunuch:

I’ve never seen the movie but I’m interested because I love James Mason and Valerie Hobson. I couldn’t find a trailer but one cover has given me a benign earworm. Here it is:

 

Wingnut Publisher Now Sad Publishing So Wingnutty

Another wingnut sees money to be made bemoaning the State of Things Today, and another company jumps to pay him money for it: 

During his 30 years in editing, Adam Bellow has handled some of the most controversial and notorious right-wing books of our era, including “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein, Dinesh D’Souza’s “Illiberal Education” and David Brock’s “The Real Anita Hill.”

But last fall, in the middle of one of the most acrimonious and divisive presidential elections in American history, Mr. Bellow, 60, made a surprising pivot. He left his post as editorial director of Broadside, a conservative imprint at HarperCollins, and started a new imprint at St. Martin’s Press, where he plans to edit authors from across the political spectrum.

As a well-known neoconservative culture warrior, Mr. Bellow is an unlikely emissary for fostering bipartisan dialogue. He’s not softening his views, or renouncing the right-wing polemics he’s edited over the decades, some of which continue to kick up controversy. (Last month, Mr. Murray faced violent protests when he gave a speech at Middlebury College in Vermont.)

Instead, Mr. Bellow said he hoped to bring Democrats and Republicans together — or at least onto the same publishing list. “I saw an opportunity to get myself out of the box that I was in,” he said. “Both sides need to re-examine their assumptions, and I want to sponsor that process.”

Both sides need to re-examine their assumptions, even though I made shitloads of money on one side explicitly NOT examining any assumptions, but hey, at least I admit it!

Mr. Bellow played a role in widening the ideological divisions he now maintains he wants to bridge. At Broadside, which he founded in 2010, he edited partisan books by Donald Rumsfeld and Ted Cruz. He helped fuel the right’s attacks on Hillary Clinton as a corrupt career politician, with works like Daniel Halper’s “Clinton, Inc.” and Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash.”

“I plead guilty,” he said. “If it’s true that our public culture has become overly polarized and people no longer argue in a respectful way with one another, I’m sure I had something to do with that.”

You know, I’m not so much mad at this guy as I am at the people who looked at his schtick and said, “Okay, let’s give him a giant pile of money to buy books with.”

This is the natural consequence of us constantly talking about “partisan politics” and America’s “political polarization” as if the state of us just happened, like the weather, as if we all just woke up one morning batshit crazy and full of rage at poor people’s grocery carts. The people who made us this way get to slither on out of the swamp they created and stocked with piranhas, clucking their tongues at how terrible it is to be here these days.

(See also Sykes, Charlie, and “talk radio is terrible now I’m done making money from wrecking Wisconsin.” I swear, every time some liberal approving retweets that asshole into my timeline I want to make them have holiday arguments with my relatives, who all think Charlie is just the shiznit because he helped bust up those dastardly public employee unions back in ’11. The north remembers, motherfucker.)

We have been sold this, for decades, sold a story of America that has never been remotely true, sold a story of selfishness and resentment and paralysis in the face of need, sold a story of government ineptitude and waste and abuse beginning in the 19goddamn30s when those commies wanted to put on plays with YOUR MONEY. We have been offered, night after night at our dinner tables, a meal of rotting meat and blighted potatoes and when some of us got hungry enough to eat it, NOW comes someone to tell us all it’s time to get healthy again?

Just spare me the paychecks written to these types, when I can throw a rock and hit a dozen writers and editors and publishers who have never been wrong about anything political in the last two decades, who are not morally bankrupt or punishingly stupid, who are working day jobs and night jobs to keep writing because there is no Big Publishing Money for being FUCKING RIGHT THE FIRST TIME AROUND.

If you want a job describing the wreckage these days, it seems you have to have had a hand on the detonator.

A.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Murder In The Navy

This week’s book cover is unexceptional with one, uh, exception: the blurb. The rave comes from Evan Hunter one of whose pen names just happened to be Richard Marsten. That’s right, he wrote a superb blurb for his own novel.

Hunter had many pen names, the best known of which was Ed McBain. In fact, Evan Hunter was a pen name that morphed into a legal name when he was 26.  He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino. I guess he always wanted to be a WASP.