Reading Hooker Heaven

 

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When I first began to write long fiction, I cast my lot with the murder/mystery genre. Later, writing what I stubbornly take to be literary fiction, mysteries, murders, and suspense forever kept turning up in my writing like dead bodies. If you have the mystery knack, it’ll stick with you, permeating whatever you write.

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Jill Edmondson, a Canadian writer, certainly of the same ilk, hasn’t strayed from the mystery genre the way I have. This book is one of a series of Sasha Jackson, private eye, mysteries. Sasha here has been hired by a madam to hunt down the a missing hooker, and in the way of this circuitously-written genre, she comes across other murders in tracking down Mary Carmen, a Hispanic hooker who only wants to go home. Too, there’s romance for Sasha, charming insecurities, and fronting a rock band: a character like all of us, sampling life from different perspectives and talents while struggling to make a living.

Sasha/Jill’s voice here is strong, marbled with humor that sticks to even the most heinous of acts, and the book is full of interestingly depicted secondary characters. If there’s a fault here, I find it in the too-often switches to Mary Carmen’s point of view, who tells us rather too much of what Sasha eventually discovers as she tracks down the hooker and solves murders. Still, it’s a fun, sexy, highly entertaining read.

 

My rating 16 of 20 stars

 

 

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Teaching the Law And Order Short Story/The Millions

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If you’re an avid reader, you probably wonder sometimes why movies made from the best novels disappoint. Well, here’s Kevin Clouther’s rationale, and I think it’s a good one:

“Good fiction grants you sustained, nuanced entry into a character’s mind that is difficult to achieve on the screen. This is one of the reasons the best books rarely translate into transcendent films, no matter how many times studios try…”

And in a related vein, most neophyte writers are so in thrall to the visual media of TV and movies that when they take on a short story it disappoints in similar fashion. Mr. Clouther explains further in the link below.

 

The Millions

 

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Audioboooks and the Return of Storytelling

 

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After reading this, I have to wonder what the future narrative of literature might entail. Two possibilities occur:

  • In dwelling more on story than the language of story, will we be seeing a more right-brain approach to literature; i.e., a more sensory, less intellectual experience for “readers”?
  • Will education become a trait of the more affluent, the ones with the more opportunity? And will their education-induced wisdom be passed on in an oral way to the less opportunity endowed, the less literate, in story form?

Your comments, readers and writers?

NY Times

 

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The Transformational Nature of Literature

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

 

Imagine a book written in the twenty-first century with pen and pencil in notebooks, work on the novel taking place over ten years. What would such a book be like? How long would it be? What impact would it have on readers? Judging by sales charts in the New York Times and others, this 770 page book is wildly popular. But why would so many readers tackle such a book in this, the age of thirty-second attention spans? I may not adequately answer the pithier of these questions, but here goes.

Ms. Tartt has created a bildungsroman here, its first-person narrator and principal character a boy named Theo Decker. Theo’s father has wandered away from his parental responsibilities, his mother has died in a museum explosion that Theo not only survives but he walks out with a priceless painting, The Goldfinch. He manages to hang on to the painting (or he thinks so) through life with a rich, troubled New York family, then with his father in Vegas, a friendship and drugs with a Russian boy alienated from his father (mother dead), and finally college and apprenticeship to a New York antique restorer. The painting’s presence in Theo’s life allows him to hang onto his mother and his childhood until he realizes that it’s wrong to cling to the past, that it must be returned to its rightful place in society.

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Tartt’s voice here is stupendous; her Theo consistently presented, and her narrative descriptions of New York’s busy hustle, Vegas’ barrenness, and Amsterdam’s freewheeling life are among the best I’ve ever read, seemingly tossed off as if in conversation over a glass of scotch. But she isn’t satisfied to depict the seaminess of youthful drug taking, abandoned children, the danger and depravity accompanying the art underworld. At book’s end, she gives us a philosophical treatise on the true value of art and of life itself. We may never understand life as we live it, but the true artists of each age allow us to see bits of life in perspective, as Carel Fabritius did by painting his goldfinch, a beautiful bird, but chained to its perch by a chain so finely rendered that a viewer may not at first notice it. Art, then, reveals the patterns and fixtures in life that both free us and imprison us, as family does, as childhood freedom does, as romance and marriage do, as education and career may do as well.

No novel is perfect, and one may select certain passages to fault here, but the value of literature isn’t in the precision of its grammar, the lapses in inspired prose, it’s in the energy that drives the life of the novel. So of what artistic value, then, is Tartt’s The Goldfinch? What impact does it promise its readers? In a certain sense it transforms the pre-Victorian urges of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and War and Peace and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into those of a postmodern, existential reality. In doing so, Tartt has proven that art is perhaps the better depiction of ethics and wisdom than those of religious texts and dogma. As times change, but as the underlying patterns of life remain a safety net between us and existential collapse, literature adjusts, it paints the picture anew for each age.

 

My rating: 20 of 20 stars

 

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The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook

Technical education, i.e., computer science, can be handled in a way that buttresses education or in ways that waste educational time. If you’re a parent – or an oldie trying to keep up education-wise, you may find the article linked below of interest.

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The Atlantic

 

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Teamwork Tells the Tale

Empire on the Platte, by Richard Crabb

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If this post’s title confuses or leads astray, I’m sorry. Nebraskan Burt Sell, a home-grown historian, provided much of author Crabb’s fodder for this book, by the author’s admission information important to the tale. And a great tale it is.

We first follow the lives of the Olive family, beginning with patriarch James Olive. Most of the story, however, is built on the life and times of James and wife Julia’s son, I.P. (Isom Prentice) Olive, known familiarly as Print. The Olive family settles in western Texas in the early 1800s and make their name rounding up wild longhorn cattle – something of a cowboy Garden of Eden. Despite competing cattlemen and rustlers, the Olives make a fortune on the backs of these longhorns. Soon, however, farmers begin coming in droves, and the Olives pick up and move to Nebraska. There they come to loggerheads once more with settlers intent on farming, and we see developing the conflict between cattlemen and sodbusters, which has been made into virtual cliche in early cowboy movies.

The Olive family’s part in this conflict along the Platte River is a central one, and it summons controversy. As Crabb tells the Olive story, Print murders a pair of farmers in gruesome fashion. Some of those involved in the killings turn state’s evidence, and Print is sent to jail.

The rest of the century-long conflict between farmers and ranchers isn’t told here; Crabbs story is built myopically about Print, and with his conviction this chapter of the long-running western conflict ends. Crabb gives us a chronological tour of this story, and he offers a multitude of details without the book becoming cumbersome. For historians wishing to find out more about this chapter of the U.S.’s westward expansion, the book is a must. And it’s eminently readable for the casual nonfiction reader.

 

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

 

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