Category Archives: Books

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Judas Cat

I’m not sure which of the covers below is from the first paperback edition. I have a guess, it’s the one with the old man and the cat. What’s a vintage pulp fiction cover without either a femme fatale or damsel in distress?

Pulp Fiction Thursday: James Meese

James Meese week continues at First Draft. He’s something of an internet man of mystery. I wasn’t able to learn much about him other than he was as short-lived as he was as prolific as a pulp fiction illustrator. I’ll just have to let his work speak for itself:

I don’t want to give you the impression Meese never did covers for some of the more popular crime fictionistas. Here are two he did for Agatha Christie paperbacks:

The Cheaper The Crook, The Gaudier The Patter

Thus spake Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon to the Fat Man’s gunsel Wilmer. Crime fiction buffs out there will recall that Wilmer was the patsy in that classic novel and movie.

I thought of Spade’s put down of Wilmer upon the release of one of what the media insists on calling THE COHEN TAPES. While I dig the way it evokes Watergate, we’re talking digital recordings, not tapes. It’s starting to bug the shit out of me so I thought I’d go on the record and I’m not talking 33’s or 45’s either.

The crook may be cheap and his patter *is* gaudy but there are NO tapes. Repeat after me: THE COHEN RECORDINGS.

That concludes this episode of How Life Imitates The Maltese Falcon.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Rififi

In honor of last night’s series finale of The Americans, I’m revisiting Rifii. It began life as a novel by Auguste le Breton before being adapted for the big screen. It turns out that the movie was such a big hit that le Breton wrote more Rififi books. Our focus is on the original tome with this image of a rather battered early edition:

My father taught me to never trust a man in red suspenders. I made that up but he was not a fan of suspenders.

Let’s move on to some posters for Jules Dassin’s classic movie:

Yeah, I know the pictures are a bit crooked. It *is* a heist movie, after all.

Time for le trailer:

 

Saturday Odds & Sods: One Week

Asheville by Willem de Kooning

I’ve mentioned the celestial switch that heralds summer heat in New Orleans. It switched on this week. Yowza. We’ve had record heat almost every day, followed by torrential rain yesterday.  Yowza. We’ve even had the odd afternoon brown-out as the utility company struggles to keep up with demand or so they say. Entergy doesn’t have a lot of credibility after they astroturfed a meeting at which the city council voted on a new power plant for the company. In short, they padded the room with paid actors. They blamed a sub-contractor but nobody’s buying it.

In other local news, two of my friends, Will Samuels, and blog pun consultant, James Karst, had parts on the season finale of NCIS: New Orleans. In honor of their appearance on this fakakta show, we have pictures.

Will is the gent in the shades. He usually wears Hawaiian shirts so I almost didn’t recognize him.

They actually let Karst hold a prop gun. I gotta say he looks like a proper Feeb, skinny tie and all. He’s even in a scene with series regular CCH Pounder best known to me as Claudette on The Shield.

This week’s theme song, One Week, was a monster hit for Barenaked Ladies  in 1998. We have two versions for your consideration. The original video followed by a clip wherein the band reunited with former co-lead singer, Steven Page earlier this year. BNL performed a medley of One Week and If I Had A Million Dollars.

It’s time to count this week’s receipts while we jump to the break. They’re considerably less than a million dollars.

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Pulp Fiction Thursday: Hell Crowds My Guns

It’s time for some Western pulpiness.

Tom Wolfe, R.I.P.

Tom Wolfe died Monday. It was his 88th birthday. The reason Wolfe was such a great reporter and novelist was that he was an acute observer of people. He was not interested in people who were just like him. His interests lay in telling the stories of quirky people in wildly different walks of life in his uniquely zippy prose style. For example, he had little in common with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters but he preserved their spirit for the ages. This quote captures his spirit of literary adventure:

“To me, the great joy of writing is discovering. Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.”

Reading all the tributes reminded me of how Wolfe’s vivid and lively prose influenced me as a writer. There’s a major exception. I hate exclamation points and Wolfe oversalted his writing with them:

“People complain about my exclamation points, but I honestly think that’s the way people think. I don’t think people think in essays; it’s one exclamation point to another.”

Since his stuff had the right stuff, it was easy for me to forgive the wild punctuation. Wolfe not only delivered the goods, he always made me laugh. His book titles were as amusingly flamboyant as his punctuation: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestRadical Chic & Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers, From Bauhaus To Our House, and his fictional masterpiece, The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Wolfe’s politics listed to the center right but he was a satirist and iconoclast, not an ideologue. He was a natural-born contrarian, if there was a conventional wisdom on a subject, he mocked it. Even his clothing reflected his worldview:

But as an unabashed contrarian, he was almost as well known for his attire as his satire. He was instantly recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue — a tall, slender, blue-eyed, still boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar, bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, “Neo-pretentious.”

Wolfe got his start as a magazine writer, primarily for New York Magazine. I first read The Right Stuff when it was serialized in Rolling Stone Magazine. I recall eagerly awaiting the arrival of each issue to get the straight poop on the Mercury astronauts. It made me feel like a throwback to the days of Trollope, Dickens, and Zola who published their major works in the same way. Speaking of Zola, here’s what Wolfe had to say about the fierce French realist:

My idol is Emile Zola. He was a man of the left, so people expected of him a kind of ‘Les Miserables,’ in which the underdogs are always noble people. But he went out, and found a lot of ambitious, drunk, slothful and mean people out there. Zola simply could not – and was not interested in – telling a lie.

It’s odd to have had so much fun researching a tribute to a recently dead writer but I had a blast visiting quote web sites and reading some of Wolfe’s tastiest bon mots. It’s made easier by the fact that the man lived such a long, eventful, and witty life. As a close friend of mine observed after attending his elderly grandmother’s funeral, “That was the period at the end of the sentence. You only use an exclamation point when it’s someone who was too young to die.”

I’m not certain that Tom Wolfe would agree with that sentiment but I’m writing this piece, not him. He does, however, get the last word. Make that last words.

We begin this section with some pithy quotes, followed by short excerpts from some of Wolfe’s major works:

“If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested.”

“I have never knowingly, I swear to God, written satire. The word connotes exaggeration of the foibles of mankind. To me, mankind just has foibles. You don’t have to push it!”

“The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.”

“A cult is a religion with no political power.”

“We are all of us doomed to spend our lives watching a movie of our lives – we are always acting on what has just finished happening.”
― The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

“Sir Gerald Moore: I was at dinner last evening, and halfway through the pudding, this four-year-old child came alone, dragging a little toy cart. And on the cart was a fresh turd. Her own, I suppose. The parents just shook their heads and smiled. I’ve made a big investment in you, Peter. Time and money, and it’s not working. Now, I could just shake my head and smile. But in my house, when a turd appears, we throw it out. We dispose of it. We flush it away. We don’t put it on the table and call it caviar.”
― The Bonfire of the Vanities

“Le Corbusier was the sort of relentlessly rational intellectual that only France loves wholeheartedly, the logician who flies higher and higher in ever-decreasing concentric circles until, with one last, utterly inevitable induction, he disappears up his own fundamental aperture and emerges in the fourth dimension as a needle-thin umber bird.”
― From Bauhaus to Our House

“A persistent case of the bingos was enough to wash a man out of night carrier landings. That did not mean you were finished as a Navy pilot. It merely meant that you were finished so far as carrier ops were concerned, which meant that you were finished so far as combat was concerned, which meant you were no longer in the competition, no longer ascending the pyramid, no longer qualified for the company of those with the right stuff.”
― The Right Stuff

That concludes a tribute with more exclamation points than a year’s worth of Adrastos posts. It was a sacrifice well worth making. In his quirky, contrarian, white-suited way, Tom Wolfe had the right stuff. He will be missed.

Saturday Odds & Sods: In The Still Of The Night

Contrasting Sounds by Wasilly Kandinsky.

It’s been an eventful week in New Orleans. The city celebrated its 300th anniversary and inaugurated our first woman mayor. I expressed my reservations about Mayor LaToya Cantrell on ye olde tweeter tube:

The slogans included “We are woke” and “We will be intentional.” I’m uncertain if that’s intentional grounding or an intentional walk. I dislike the latter baseball tactic as much as exclamation points. I still wish the new mayor well. Her propensity to mangle the language is good for the satire business, and there’s no business like giving a politician the business. I believe in taking care of business, every day, every way.

This week’s theme song, In The Still Of The Night, was written by Cole Porter in 1937 for the MGM movie musical, Rosalie. It was first sung by Nelson Eddy who was in a shit ton of hokey costume movie operettas with Jeanette MacDonald. I am not a fan of the duo but I am a die-hard Cole Porter fan as evinced by the frequent appearance of his work as Odds & Sods theme songs. I considered counting them but I’m feeling as lazy as the president* today. Where did all my executive time go?

We have two versions of the Porter classic for your entertainment. First, the elegant jazz-pop baritone Billy Eckstine aka the Voice of God.

Second, the Neville Brothers featuring some gorgeous sax playing by Charles Neville. He was an acquaintance of mine. Charles died recently at the age of 79. He was a lovely man with a kind word for everyone he met.

It’s time for a journey to Disambiguation City. Fred Parris wrote *his* In The Still Of The Night for his doo-wop group The Five Satins in 1956.

Yeah, I know, Boyz II Men also had a hit with the Parrisian song but I’m not going there. Instead, let’s jump to the break. Now where the hell did I put my parachute?

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Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Fixers

The fixers in question were cigar-smoking guys who fixed college basketball games. In short, the cover features games and gams. The latter are more prevalent on vintage pulp covers. Anyone surprised? I thought not.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Hootenanny Nurse

I’ve long thought hootenanny was one of the funniest words in the English language. This week’s entry has done nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: If He Hollers Let Him Go

The African-American writer Chester Himes is best known for his noirish crime fiction and books set in Harlem. If He Hollers Let Him Go was his first novel. It’s a racially charged story set in post-World War II Los Angeles.

I read it after reading an interview with Walter Mosley wherein he recommended the book. I kept waiting for Easy Rawlins to show up. He did not but it’s a good book even without Easy and Mouse.

If He Hollers Let Him Go was made into a movie in 1968.

Here’s the trailer:

The whole damn movie is available on the YouTube for now.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Pirate Wench

This was another one of those weeks where I searched for something completely different and found this book. What’s not to love about the title Pirate Wench?

It gives me a pretext to post this ELP opus:

 

 

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Flying Eyes

Another week, another alien invasion book.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Gods Hate Kansas

I’d never heard of this book until last week. I picked it because it has a cool title and cover, the Kansas Jayhawks made the Final Four, Leftoverture by Kansas was featured yesterday, and my friend Dave Gladow is from Kansas. What the latter has to do with anything is beyond me but Dave *does* like Star Wars and comic book movies.

The book turns out to have a helluva back story:

Joseph Millard was an American pulp science fiction writer who published nearly a dozen short stories between 1941 and 1943, and then apparently gave up writing for good. Most of his stories appeared in magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories, Amazing StoriesFantastic Adventures, and other pulps. He died in 1989.

In November 1941, he published his only novel, The Gods Hate Kansas, in Startling Stories magazine. It was reprinted a decade later in the November 1952 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine, and then appeared in paperback in February 1964 from Monarch Books, with a brilliantly gonzo cover by Jack Thurston, featuring a raygun-wielding hero riding bareback on a little red number and giving the business to an earnest-looking bug-eye monster.

Here’s the 1964 edition:

The Gods Hate Kansas became the 1967 British sci-fi flick, They Came From Beyond Space:

 

Here’s the trashy trailer:

We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

Procol Harum gets the last word:

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Kiss My Assassin

Same book, same title, dueling assassins. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was wildly popular when Rod Gray came up with The Lady From L.U.S.T. series. Knocked off is more like it, but when could I resist a punny title?

‘The Work Is Worth Doing’

Mallory Ortberg on their new book and the nature of the unknown: 

Ortberg: If you look at the Christian Bible—again, that’s the story that I come from—you look at the Book of Job, and there’s this fascinating, open-ended question of what is the Satan? Because that’s literally the name of the character in the book. It’s called the Satan, not like the devil or Lucifer, Satan, like that’s his name. It’s just the Satan, and it means that he has a job. It’s your job. You bring evidence against humanity, and you are in God’s employ, and obviously we lost some of that over time. You remember the cartoons of the sheepdog and the wolf who would fight all day, and then they would end by swiping their punch cards? That’s been lost, and there’s just the sense of—it is this actual demonic, supernatural entity that lives somewhere in the ether and is out to get me. I think if you look at those stories, they are incredibly destabilized and all over the place, and that’s fantastic.

Rumpus: In these fairy tales is a universe that is random and tricky. You write with a real confidence, yet a lot of what you’re getting at in this book is the ways in which no one knows anything.

Ortberg: The confidence is in saying, This work is worth doing, not, I know what the work is, or Here’s how we all get it done.

There’s a lot in this interview — which is about fairy tales and gender identity and all kinds of questions which is to say read the whole thing, as the kids once said — about questioning as something to be feared. The Olds get so ragey about the gender stuff, like it’s maddening to them, “how do I know what you are?” And they’re actually asking how do I know what I am.

We are not comfortable with our own unknowns. We feel like there is some point at which we get to Know Things, and be Done. We feel like at some point we’ll stop feeling uncertain, we’ll stop worrying if we’ve accomplished enough, and sometimes we even fool ourselves into thinking this is the case. And then along comes something to upend that.

The reason this interview struck me so directly is that what Ortberg is saying is that not only is the work never done, but the work itself is the work. The figuring, the questioning, the exploring, the arguing, the uncertainty and fear, those are all the point, and if you never find answers it’s still worth shoving yourself forward. Accepting that the work will never be done, put your shoulder to the wheel anyway, and glory in the moment of being alive to do so.

How do I know what I am isn’t something you ever stop asking, even if it gets buried under all the shit you have to do to make it day to day.

A.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Heart Of Gold

Tree Of Life by Gustav Klimt.

The weather is playing tricks on us. We’re having February weather in March. That’s fine with me. It beats the hell out of an early New Orleans summer. But the cool temperatures have brought the pollen that torments me in the Spring. Achoo.

In local news, the Mississippi River is on the rise, so it’s time to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to divert river water into Lake Pontchartrain to prevent flooding. It has me pondering the way folks in South Louisiana pronounce French words. We’re usually off but as not badly as with the Spillway: the local media insist on saying Bonny Carry. That sounds like a blue-haired old lady up river in Duluth. It drives me nuts, y’all. I feel like taking a stroll up Charters (Chartres) Street.

This week’s theme songs are inspired by the layers of golden pollen that are everywhere in Uptown New Orleans. Achoo. Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold was the first of many sonic departures he was to take in his career. It worked: it was Neil’s first big solo hit.

Ray Davies has told two stories about the Kinks’ Heart Of Gold. One is that it was inspired by the birth of his daughter. The other story is that it was inspired by Princess Ann telling some photographers to “naff off.” Only Ray knows for sure. If you asked him, I suspect he’d come up with a third story.

I love Ray’s chorus:

Underneath that rude exterior,
There’s got to be a heart of gold.
Underneath that hard exterior,
Is a little girl waiting to be told,
You’ve got a heart of gold.
She’s got a heart of gold.

Let’s take our rude and hard exteriors and jump to the break. “Watch out, don’t get caught in the crossfire.”

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Pulp Fiction Thursday: Paul Rader

Paul Rader was an illustrator who had a long and prolific career in the world of pulp fiction. Here are four covers he did for Midwood books.

Not Everything Sucks

Some people are building libraries.

Sunshine High School in Newbern, Ala., closed its doors for good two years ago. But the town’s 186 residents didn’t just lose a school, they lost a library — the only one for miles around.

Luckily, Newbern is home to Rural Studio, a design-build program within Auburn University’s School of Architecture. Following the principle that “everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good design,” Rural Studio set out to build Newbern a new library.

Students repurposed an old bank building donated by a local family, reusing many of the original materials. Wood that was part of the teller’s counter was made into the librarian’s desk, bricks from the vault are now part of a patio wall and the original vault door is on display in the front window.

A.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Wired For Scandal/Tune In And Die

Two-fer books were quite common in the early days of paperbacks. I picked this cover because both novels have cool titles.

Wired For Scandal sounds like an account of the current administration, which is why I gave it top billing. Believe me.