Monday, May 30, 2011

Dashiell Hammett, copy editor's friend, Part II

Dashiell Hammett marked his 117th birthday this week by alerting me to what may be a mistake in a new crime novel. In this new book, muzzle flash in a suddenly dark room lets one character pick out another's facial features.

Eighty-one years earlier, Hammett had written the following in "Suggestions to Detective Story Writers":
"It is impossible to see anything by the flash of an ordinary gun, though it is easy to imagine you have seen things."

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A hit and myth by Elmore Leonard

My recent reading of Daniel Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy got me thinking of other regions of the United States that are foreign to me. And that led me to Elmore Leonard's 2005 novel The Hot Kid, a crime story that reads like a Western and spans an intermediate era between the two.

The good guys are federal agents and the bad guys bank robbers, but the hero in particular gets a mythlike origin story and accompanying legend more reminiscent of the lawmen of America's storied Western past. That Leonard updates that past with realistic sexual and ethnic detail is part of the book's fun.

Leonard began his career writing Westerns before becoming famous as a crime writer. His melding of the two in this book got me reflecting on the common roots of those two great genres of American popular writing.
More than the previous Leonard I'd read, The Hot Kid made me understand what younger crime writers mean when they say they love his work. The rhythm of the man's sentences reminds me of John McFetridge, an avowed Elmore Leonard admirer, and also of Declan Burke, another Detectives Beyond Borders friend whose name often calls forth mentions of Leonard.
I'm always on the lookout for appearances of my profession in crime novels. There's a nice one here about a reporter who wants to write about the Ku Klux Klan's hatred of Italians and Catholics but whose editor has other ideas:
"Tony wrote a story about the happy Fassino family's popular macaroni factory. Another one about a social club, the Christopher Columbus Society and its twenty-five piece band that at festivals and on the Fourth of July.

"The editor said, `I think you're getting the hang of it. Now write one about the tendency of your people to overindulge in Choctaw beer and homemade wine.'

"That did it. Tony Antonelli quit ... "
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy belated birthday

Photo © 2005

Dashiell Hammett was born 117 years ago yesterday.


Nice-looking birds on the beach

(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)

Just back from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet Scobie Malone

There's considerable sociological interest to The High Commissioner  (1966), first of Jon Cleary's twenty Scobie Malone novels.

The book takes Malone from Sydney to London, where he is to arrest the Australian high commissioner on a murder charge. The first chapters offer  the familiar clash between police work and politics and, since the police officer is the protagonist, one knows who the good guy is. But Cleary's political sketches are move vivid than most. Not only do inter- and intra-party rivalries come into play, but tension between state and federal branches as well. The opening chapters also use anticlimax as an effective suspense-builder.

But I liked the sociological detail best, notably Malone's surprise and amusement at London's sounds and sights. The trip is his first out of Australia, and the London scenes may have struck a chord in a country flush with postwar prosperity and reaching out to the world.  

Here's a bit of Cleary's innocent abroad:
"The taxi pulled in before the big four-storied house. Malone got out and, conditioned by another habit, paid the driver the exact amount on the meter.

"`You Aussies,' said the driver, an economist from Bethnal Green. `I bet you don't have any balance of payments deficit.'

"Malone, who had never tipped a taxi driver in his life, looked at the man blankly. `Get lost,' said the latter, and drove off, gnashing is gears instead of his teeth."
Cleary also takes an ironical slap at the White Australia immigration policy, still in force at the time of the book's publication. And he has Malone's boss deliver what seems to this outsider a declaration of Australia's sense of itself:
"Take Flannery, for instance. I'd bet not one percent of this State's population could tell you anything about his early life. They couldn't care less. It's what you are today that counts in this country, not what you were."
Cleary, who died in 2010 at 92, was prolific and much-honored. He wrote more than fifty books, and his honors include Edgar and Ned Kelly Awards for best novel and the first Ned Kelly Award for lifetime achievement. Read more about Cleary, including links to several interviews.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Win a book and a glimpse of a weird new China

Lisa Brackmann's Rock, Paper, Tiger offers some of the most unexpected views you're likely to get of China short of visiting and hanging out with its squatters, scene-makers, disaffected artists, and others who struggle to stay one step ahead of the country's ruthless capitalistic socialistic-with-Chinese-characteristics wrecking ball.

Now you can meet them by answering this skill-testing question: What Chinese scientist was recently greeted with a hail storm of shoes and eggs in his appearance at a Chinese university? What electronic landmark is he famous for?

First correct answer wins a copy of Rock, Paper, Tiger. Send answers plus a postal address to detectivesbeyondborders (at) earthlink (dot) net
Lisa Brackmann was a member of  my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010. Read her thoughts on architecture, demolition, and community in today's China.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm old-fashioned, and I don't mind it!

"Barnes & Noble's 700 stores may appear to be an albatross. But they could be transformed into places that highlight mostly digital devices and content and mimic Apple's successful stores. Barnes & Noble has already cleared space at the front of its stores to display the Nook and push e-books.

"You don't want the old-fashioned bookstore customer who goes in and sits and reads a book for two hours. You want people going in there who are hungry for experience," said Richard Hastings, a consumer strategist with Global Hunter Securities."

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Winners, losers and two more complaints about editing

I'll ease out of Daniel Woodrell country with the observation that none of the characters in the three novels that make up the "Bayou Trilogy" is a winner in anything like the conventional sense.  Call me sentimental, but I call that a refreshing perspective.
An excavation into the book pile today turned up a mystery set in contemporary times with a prologue in the fourth century A.D. that had arrows being fired, meaning shot. Flaming arrows were used as early as the ninth century B.C., Wikipedia tells me, but I recall no indication that these arrows were of that variety. I also suspect that to fire as a synonym for to shoot or discharge a weapon did not enter English until after the invention of gunpowder and guns well after the fourth century. That would make its use in this book a distracting anachronism.

The same excavation turned up a book that referred to a man who killed a number of women over more than a decade as a "mass murderer." He was not. He was a serial killer.

Where were the editors of these books?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wodehouse on the Bayou

Daniel Woodrell may not remind anyone else of P.G. Wodehouse, but both authors build fictional worlds so convincing that every utterance, every description, no matter how utilitarian its place in the narrative, is extraordinary. The smallest bit contains the seeds of the whole.

In Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy, it's quite a whole, full of "last-call Lotharios from along the Redneck Riviera" and folks who say things like "You ever think maybe you're brain-damaged a little bit, there, Slade?" — wonderful, colorful stuff without, however, mugging for the camera. There are no caricatures here, perhaps because Woodrell has such respect and sometimes heartbreaking compassion for his characters.

No caricatures in the matter of place, either. Woodrell's  slice of the American South is full of variegated human micro-climates, with insiders, outsiders, and all manner of regional differences and rivalries.  It's a much richer and more  dynamic and human depiction than one generally gets of that part of America. 

The Bayou Trilogy (Mulholland Books) packages three of Woodrell's early novels set in the fictional St. Bruno, Louisiana: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do. They're crime novels, and the first two are in rough outline something like Hammett's Red Harvest: outsiders come to a politically corrupt town, try to muscle in, and stir up trouble that includes larceny and murder. But the storytelling is so rich that it feels entirely new.

My only quibble with the first two novels in the trilogy (I've just begun the third) is that the ending to Under the Bright Lights feels just the tiniest bit forced, as if Woodrell could not quite figure out what to have his protagonist do once the action had been resolved. But that doesn't mean much set against what had gone before. I'm ready to rank these books among the great experiences of my reading life.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Extreme nonsense, plus a question for readers

What's your favorite buzzword or slogan? All-naturalGreen? "Going forward"? How about the insurance company that suggests it "could save you up to 15% or more"? (Analyze that for a minute, with special emphasis on the boldface words.)

What about extreme? Do you like your sports extreme? Your skin care? Management toolsLaw-enforcement supplies? How about your edge switching?

This week I received notice of a service where extremity is the last thing I'd expect or want. I don't know about you, but when the dentist leans over my head, furrows his brow, and reaches for his tool kit, the last thing I want him thinking about is street luge or half-pipe.

How about you? What's the oddest or most ridiculous application of extreme to a product or service that you know of? For extra fun, let loose your inner ad man and make one up! Extreme baby food, anyone?
(Here's a list of Top 10 Unfortunate Product Names for your reading pleasure. But wait, there's more!, though your humble blogkeeper can vouch for the genuineness of none of these.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A school of crime?

Several crime novels I've read recently share certain features: yearning emotion, stories  at least as wistful as they are tragic, and empathy with characters whatever their orientation on the legal or even moral compass. Some of the books enhance the effect by alternating point of view among several characters.

Most notable to me has been that the emotion suffuses not just the characters but the social and physical landscapes as well. The books are The Wolves of Fairmount Park, by Dennis Tafoya (Philadelphia); Done for a Dime by David Corbett (San Francisco Bay Area); and Cold Shot to the Heart by Wallace Stroby, whose heister heroine ranges fairly widely.

Domenic Stansberry's The Big Booom (San Francisco) may belong on the list as well. Same with John McFetridge's novels (Toronto, Montreal, and those American cities just over the border from them).

Several of these books have publishers, editors, or both in common. So, how many crime writers does it take to make a school, anyhow?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Detectives Beyond Borders on the radio — again

My 2009 appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio's Here on Earth program will be rebroadcast today at 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Dig that nifty opening theme, and find out what kind of voices the show's host, Jean Feraca, likes! In honor of WPR's rebroadcast, I'm bringing back a blog post I made after the show first aired.

Here's a summary of  what we talked about and what I would have liked to talk about had we had more time. (If you're just tuning in now, the Here on Earth link should still allow you listen to the archived program.)
I'm back from talking international crime fiction on the Here on Earth radio program, and how about a huzzah for Wisconsin Public Radio for hosting a show on that entertaining, enlightening topic? The broadcast is available for listening or downloading here or here.

I learned that radio is an astonishingly compressed medium. I was worried we'd run out of things to discuss, but we got to barely a tenth of the authors and subjects I'd prepared. So in the coming days, I'll post a series of outtakes, things I'd have discussed had there been time.

I did get to tout Ireland as a hotbed of crime fiction, to offer my definition of noir and to talk about Yasmina Khadra, Seicho Matsumoto, Henning Mankell, Patricia Highsmith, David Goodis, Ian Rankin, Matt Rees, Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor and Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole. My fellow guest and I both like Jean-Claude Izzo, so we talked about him awhile. (That fellow guest was Hirsh Sawhney, editor of Akashic Books' Delhi Noir, about which he made some interesting remarks.)

But, oh, the things I didn't get to: Corporate villains. Humorous Swedes. Canadian borders. Northern Ireland. Irish odysseys. Hard-boiled crime as America's gift to the world. Translation. Miscellaneous exotica. The world of publishing.

More to come. Oh, and the show's host, Jean Feraca, with whom I had never spoken before, said on air that I had a "nice voice." Bless you, Ms. Feraca.
P.S.: Feraca gave me credit for a statement that I was only quoting. It was the Edgar Allan Poe scholar Shelley Costa Bloomfield who suggested that the French were ready and waiting for what Poe had to offer before Americans were: "Maybe it takes an older civilization to feel comfortable with the dark side and be able to enjoy it." I wish I'd said that, but Costa Bloomfield said it first.

P.P.S: Before anyone can point this out to me, I realize that I said, "If you will" once on the air. I shall suffer the consequences in the next life.

P.P.P.S. Finally, I think I got Seicho Matsumoto's death date wrong. That fine Japanese crime writer died in 1992. I think I killed him off twelve years prematurely.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009, 2011

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Booms, busts, and how crime writers portray them

More than most crime novels, Domenic Stansberry's The Big Boom (2006) caters to my tendency to devote posts to a book's parts rather than the whole.

Chapter One is a fine atmospheric beginning that opens the way to questions about historical fiction. Chapter Three has the protagonist imagining a corpse talking to him. Chapter Five is narrated from a cat's point of view — and it also contains a regrettable editing lapse. Thirty short pages could keep me posting for a week.

First the opening. I've long wanted to ask authors of historical crime fiction about an inevitability of writing stories set during a real war: The reader knows how part of the story will end.  Stansberry sets his book not during wartime, but during the dot-com bubble (Remember when the term dot-com made people giddy with excitement, the way social media or apps or 4G smartphone do now?)  The reader knows how the boom will end, and Stansberry does not pretend otherwise. The result is one of the more evocative and ominous openings in all of crime fiction:
"It was the time of the big boom and everyone figured the prosperity would last forever."
(Here's another favorite bit from the opening paragraph: "The old-timers found the new enthusiasm insufferable, but the old-timers found everything insufferable. The truth was, you could see a certain gleam in their eyes, too ... ")

Here's your question: Stansberry's opening will inevitably put crime readers, perhaps Irish ones especially, in mind of economic booms, economic busts, their consequences, and the people left behind. Who has written the great post-Celtic Tiger crime novel? The great American recession crime book? 
And here's the lapse. The cat chapter begins thus:
"Eccentric the Cat lay in an unhappy somnolence on his mistress's rayon bathrobe, in the dark corner of the armoire. It was a place that was redolent of Angie's smell ... "
Redolent means exuding fragrance; smells like, in other words. Redolent of Angie's smell is redundant. I also would have cut "a place that was." But I'm a copy editor; what do I know?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Daniel Woodrell's lesson in creating a sense of place

Three of Daniel Woodrell's early novels, released in an omnibus edition as "The Bayou Trilogy," cross a border that is for me as real as that to any foreign country.

That's because passages like this, from early in Under the Bright Lights, give me a vivid feeling of being in a place distinctive and different from my usual surroundings, and that's what crossing borders is all about:
"He had tried to explain that the bar was the center of the neighborhood in which they had grown up, and the regulars were neighbors first and threats to society second. ... Such explanations were regarded as suspiciously metaphysical by his superiors."
The book's early pages remind me of novels about which some readers complain that the characters do nothing but crack wise. Maybe I'll grow weary of this as I read more, but so far the voice is so distinctive, it has such a knack of making amusing even ordinary remarks not intended as jokes, that I'm happy to go along for the ride. Here's one more example, and then a question:
"Duncan smiled at her. She was a drinker with good looks picking up speed downhill, which was his usual game, but she was Pete's woman."
Neither of these two passages includes physical description of Woodrell's fictional city of St. Bruno, but each gives a brief, sharp sense of the novel's human setting. And now, the question: Physical description is one way authors create a sense of place. What are some others?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Introspective detectives

Two books I pulled out of the pile more or less by chance this week share the quality of having an unusually introspective detective.

William McIlvanney's Laidlaw novels are extended meditations, digressions and observations punctuated occasionally by bits of action, and McIlvanney has the writing chops to pull it off.  Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Rio de Janeiro police inspector protagonist also muses on the nature of his work — no surprise, perhaps, from a character named Spinosa.

Here's a bit of McIlvanney's Strange Loyalties:
"I've seen it go about its business all too often — all those trials in which you can watch the bemusement of the accused grow while the legal charade goes on around him. You can watch his eyes cloud, panic and finally silt up with surrender. He doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. He can no longer recognize what he's supposed to have done. Only they know what they're talking about. It's their game. He's just the ball."

And here's a passage from Garcia-Roza's Blackout:
"Neither the question not the possible replies were anything like a real investigation, but they did increase the number of conjectures that told him in his own head something was about to begin. He still couldn't call it an investigation: it was more like an intellectual stew combining very acute observations, subtle rationalizations, and delirious ideas. He considered it to be something like prethought."
Who's your favorite introspective detective?
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Car chases and the ‘70s: What's your favorite?

(Starsky and Hutch's Gran Torino)
I’ve invoked the 1970s from time to time, usually in snide remarks about the decade’s crappy haircuts. But Saturday’s post and the discussion that follows (it’s still going on; weigh in!) remind me that the era was a high point for chase scenes, too.

One reader posted a clip of a car chase from Le Casse (1971) that included oil slicks, Greek dancers, applauding spectators, and Fiats and Opels shooting down staircases. It was well-crafted, it was a lot more exciting than the computer-generated stuff we get today, and it reminded me of the car chases of my youth. And that got me thinking that if the 1970s were not the high-water mark of car chases, they probably did mark car chases' leap into both the mainstream (The Streets of San Francisco) and the artistic zeitgeist (in the form of J.G. Ballard's Crash).

(Coincidentally, an excerpt from Duane Swierczynski’s forthcoming novel Fun and Games also recaptured some of that 1970s car-chase excitement. And that raises the question of which crime writer's name you'd least like to be asked to spell: Swierczynski’s or Didier Daeninckx's?)

So, a few questions: 
  • What are your favorite scenes involving cars driving fast or dangerously? Movie scenes are welcome, but I'll be especially curious to see if you come up with scenes from books.
  • When did cars first become places of danger and excitement in  fiction and in movies? (Here's a favorite example: Raymond Chandler's 1935 story "Nevada Gas.")
  • Why did car chases go mainstream in the 1970s?
  • What's the attraction of car chases?
  • Are all the good ones in American and French movies?
Here's another post I made about a movie with a car chase in it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

David Goodis on screen and beyond borders

The 1972 movie ... and Hope to Die crosses a number of borders, notably from print to film (it's based on David Goodis' novel Black Friday) and from the U.S. to France (the movie's original title is La course du lièvre à travers les champs, and its director is René Clément, one of several French directors who adapted Goodis.)

I knew about both before I rented the movie. But I was stunned to see the opening chase scene take place not on a cold Philadelphia street, as in the book, but in front of one of Montreal's iconic most familiar buildings: Buckminster Fuller's United States pavilion from the Expo '67 world's fair.  

This was no case of Montreal filling in for New York or Chicago, either. Characters make several references to Montreal, and the camera lingers at least once on a sign for the real University Street. The cash strewn around throughout the movie looks American, though. Maybe the gang's hideout is just over the border in Vermont,  or perhaps they popped down to the States for a bit of shopping in Plattsburgh.

The movie, like the book, lays bare Goodis' yearning for family, and it features a number of fine performances, notably by Robert Ryan as Charley, the gang's leader and father figure. (The Wikipedia article on Ryan omits the movie. This only adds to the small errors and omissions I have found in Wikipedia's articles on movies. Use Wikipedia at your peril!)

(The screenplay is by the French crime novelist Sébastien Japrisot, whose novels include A Very Long Engagement. You may know that book from its adaptation into a movie starring the adorable Audrey Tautou, whose last name is probably one of the more often misspelled in moviedom. )

Read an appreciation of Black Friday. Read Vincent Canby's highly unappreciative review of the movie from the New York Times.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

What does literary "influence" mean?

Larry McMurtry's introduction to the NYRB edition of Georges Simenon's Monsieur Monde Vanishes is all about the urge to disappear and start a new life, but it does not mention the Flitcraft parable from The Maltese Falcon.

The omission is odd because McMurtry does cite other literary parallels. I don't necessarily suggest that Hammett influenced Simenon, but I'd be curious about McMurtry's reason for the omission. (The Maltese Falcon predates Simenon's novel by sixteen years, in case you're wondering.)
The estimable Brian Lindenmuth said of Wallace Stroby's novel Cold Shot to the Heart: "Imagine a Parker novel if Parker was a woman," and I won my copy in a contest on the Violent World of Parker Web site. Indeed, Stroby inscribed the book: "To Peter, who really knows his Richard Stark [the pen name under which Donald Westlake wrote the Parker novels]."

The novel opens mid-heist, as do the middle-period Parker novels, and some of its middle chapters open in mid-action ("When ...), like the early Parkers.  Thing is, the book doesn't feel much like a Parker.

Its heister-on-the-run plot feels more like a tale of doomed lovers on the run (though protagonist Chrissa's lover is in prison, she doesn't mean to leave him there), and the story tugs at the heartstrings in ways Stark never did.  And it is to Stroby's considerable credit that the two biggest heartstring-tuggers work nicely as plot elements, one of them especially so. The book may yank at your heart, but it won't insult your mind.

Stroby has undoubtedly read his Richard Stark, but his novel, for all its surface similarities, feels very different from Stark's books. And that leads to today's question: What do you mean when you say, "Author or Book A influenced Author or Book B"? In what ways does one author or book influence another?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Fatale by Manchette

I learned from the introductory material to Jean-Patrick Manchette's 1977 novel Fatale, newly published in English translation by NYRB Classics, that Manchette translated Donald Westlake, Margaret Millar, Ross Thomas, and Alan Moore's Watchmen into English.
I also learned that Jean Echenoz, who wrote an afterword to the novel, considers it perhaps the darkest of Manchette's works.  This surprised me, because I found comic touches of the kind I did not remember from Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, the other two Manchette novels available in English. And those comic touches helped me understand why Duane Swierczynski likes Manchette so much. (Swierczynski is quoted on the back cover of Fatale, and he named a character — or part of one — after Manchette in his own novel The Blonde.)

The humor is always gleeful, even when politically pointed. (I continue to be surprised by humor, zest, and good old storytelling from European crime writers of the left. You'd think I'd by used to it by now, but what can I tell you? I've been in America too long.) To wit:
"She thumbed through the Paris papers but failed to find what she was looking for. She turned to the local publications. One of them championed a left-capitalist ideology; the other championed a left-capitalist ideology."
This brief roman noir tells the story of Aimée, a hitwoman who comes to a French town to sniff out the money and stir things up. Not especially cold or distant, she nonetheless finds just one kindred spirit, an old baron off his nut who scandalizes the town while nonetheless remaining part of it.

Manchette's protagonists don't end happily, and this one is no exception. But she does manage some acerbic humor along the way:
"I've been wasting time. I didn't know whom to kill. For a moment I thought of suggesting to Sinistrat's old lady that her wretch of a husband could be done in. Or proposing to Sinistrat and his little Julie that old Lenverguez be bumped off. But it was no good. These people are too dumb."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The end of Twitter as a source of news

Nothing in recent memory has made me feel better about newspapers than Twitter's reporting of Osama bin Laden's death.

Like much of the world, I learned of bin Laden's death on Twitter, and that initial excitement carried the thrill of a whispered rumor. But that's all it carried. It took me about thirty seconds to realize that nothing I wanted to know about his death — its consequences and ramifications, primarily, but also its circumstances and, secondarily, the reactions in the U.S. of people most affected by the 9/11 attacks — could or would ever be available on Twitter in a form useful to me.

For that I'll have to turn to newspapers, magazines (television, too, I suppose) and their online imitators. So, while social media may be a useful canary in a coal mine for news organizations and for the reading, listening and watching public, they're nothing more than starting points for news. If Twitter offers news, I want something else. I want the story.
I am reading or have just read two novels from the 1970s that turn at least in part on disillusionment with the degree to which life has become a big spectacle. One is J.G. Ballard's Crash, and the other is Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette, newly available in English translation  from New York Review of Books (and including a blurb from Philadelphia's own Duane Swierczynski).

I thought of both as I read an article in my newspaper about Twitter and bin Laden's death that quotes a social news editor of the Huffington Post thus:
“At one time, they all would have had to go the White House or ground zero or a baseball game. But now people could stay at their houses and be part of this outpouring of emotion and the conversation.”
Ballard would have shuddered — if he didn't laugh his ass off.
Just had a chat with two colleagues about the bogus Martin Luther King quotation. Back when Twitter was taken seriously, we would have had to exchange Tweets. But now we could gather together, for real, in person, and talk about how the entire world has been suckered by social media.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, May 02, 2011

A little Crash

I thought of writing about death in J.G. Ballard's Crash, about why the 1973 novel's handling of the subject might interest crime readers and writers, though Crash is no crime novel (or if it is, the crime is unpunished vehicular homicide).

But too much else is going on in the book — obsession, eroticism, technology,  technological and erotic obsession, eroticized technology, Elizabeth Taylor — for me to start asking what it all means. So for now, here's a passage that might give our celebrity-obsessed age pause:
"As one of the first of the new-style TV scientists, Vaughan had combined a high degree of personal glamour — heavy black hair over a scarred face, an American combat jacket — with an aggressive lecture-theatre manner and complete conviction in his subject matter ... Vaughan had projected a potent image, almost that of a scientist as hoodlum, driving about from laboratory to television centre on a high-powered motorcycle. Literate, ambitious and adept at self-publicity, he was saved from being no more than a pushy careerist with a Ph.D. by a strain of naive idealism ..."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Read a review, win a book

My review of Gerard O'Donovan's novel The Priest appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, and it was a tough one to write.

An aspect or two of the book drove me nuts, and this distressed me for two reasons: I don't like knocking books, and I feared that my quibbles might seem like idiosyncratic nit-picking.

But I saw my editor preparing his bamboo shoots and thumb screws, so I wrote the review, and I'm glad I did. My complaints only brought into sharper relief the novel's most interesting aspects: It's about a serial attacker/killer, but it does not get inside the attacker/killer's head. Nor, despite the horrific injuries the attacker inflicts, does O'Donovan dwell on them in loving detail.
A reader from the state of Fatti maschii, parole femine knew that Pope John Paul II's visit to Dublin forms part of the backstory to The Priest. Her womanly words win her a copy of the novel. Congratulations.
My editor excised from the review one damned I'd used as an intensifier. What would he have made of this story?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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