Bleak story has far-reaching implications

book11Russell Banks knows how to hook the reader’s interest. In the opening pages of Lost Memory of Skin, the book’s protagonist (known only as “The Kid”) enters the public library in Calusa (Miami) and asks the woman at the desk if she would help him find some information. She agrees and he asks if it is true that people who are called “sexual deviants” are on the Internet program along with their photo and their addresses.

A well-written, lively look through history

bookIn the first half of the fifteenth century, decades before Columbus set sail, the great Chinese admiral Zheng He commanded a fleet that seven times sailed across the Indian Ocean and reached the shores of East Africa. This talented admiral returned from each voyage — (some historians believe he died on the last one) — with rare goods and exotic animals. In spite of this impressive feat of navigation, after Zhen He’s death the Chinese emperor decreed an end to the construction of oceangoing vessels. He then had Zehng He’s fleet dragged ashore and left to rot, and even ordered the surviving animals in the imperial zoo killed.

Disappearances, nightmares and a sense of terror

bookSome 30 years ago, a science-fiction writer named Whitney Striber wrote a novel called Wolfen, and it frightened me badly. The basic premise was that humanity had no purpose other than to provide a dependable food source for a terrifying species called “wolfen” that lived in colonies beneath the earth and only surfaced to feed. For thousands of years, these reptilian wolves lived silently in the sewers of major cities. They could move with astonishing speed and only “harvested” human victims who were never missed. It made a decent movie, too.

Finding elusive love in the modern world of dating

book“Chick-lit” is, of course, the slang expression for those books appealing especially to women. Though not politically correct, most men and women use this moniker when thinking of romance novels, most Christian fiction, books that address feelings (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), many self-improvement books and even diet books. The all-time classic chick-lit novel is undoubtedly Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book that many women treasure and which wise men wishing to better understand women read. 

Wading into a few of my favorite ‘dipper’ books

bookSome books — novels, certain histories and biographies — deserve full immersion. We dive into them, plummet into their depths, swim through them from first page to last, and return to shore refreshed and satisfied by our explorations.

Distilling the life of blues legend Robert Johnson

bookI have always been fascinated by the folklore attending the too-short life of Robert Johnson, “King of the Delta Blues Singers.” For me, he was another doomed genius like James Dean, John Keats and Hank Williams — men who flashed across the night sky like the momentary radiance of a shooting star and then they were gone forever. 

Of rhyme and reason, for better or worse



A word with a lovely sound, but with bleak connotations.

A poetic description of a savage time

bookIt took me almost a year to read this book. I kept losing it, leaving it in restaurants and other people’s cars. However, the major reason for the delay was that I didn’t want to finish it. I kept going back to the beginning and becoming enamored again and again of a young Jake Roedel’s surreal journey through the killing fields of “Bloody Kansas” and Missouri during the final years of the Civil War. 

Mailer — a man of his time and shaper of it

bookIn the Prologue to Norman Mailer: A Double Life (978-1-4391-5019-1, 2013, $40), biographer J. Michael Lennon writes that “Mailer’s desire for fame, and his distaste for it, never abated over his long career. Nor did his ability to determine how he might write about his current situation, whatever it might be. It became a reflex.”

‘Night Film’ is a tiring yet mesmerizing read

bookI did not like this book. My first response on finishing it was that I would not review it, but there is a paradox here. The author has an enviable and encyclopedic knowledge of the history of film, and this book is freighted with a wealth of film myth and legend. 

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