4 August 2006
It was raining this morning, so the Brattle bargain-carts were out of the question, which put the whole of Downtown Crossing out of the picture, since who wants to slime themselves with all that pimpin' and ho-in' and scorin' and dealin' if they don't have to?
But the Boston Book Annex yielded up its customary trove of treasures: I bought "Valdez is Coming" by Elmore Leonard, because every quick western I've read by him (or by Loren Estleman) has been just slam-bang wonderful, pitch-perfect exercises in plot and dialogue. Perfect fodder for the disdain of Cantabridgians (although I know at least one who was raised on cheap thrillers and Star Trek novels, and I suspect there are a good many others like him out there).
I bought Stephen Jay Gould's great non-trilogy trilogy, "Ever Since Darwin," "The Panda's Thumb," and "Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes" - mainly because the three together make a great gift for somebody just becoming interested in reading natural history, but also because all three together cost me only one dollar (and I guess there was a third reason, namely that I used to run into Gould all the time in and about Boston and Cambridge, and as silly as it sounds, it still saddens me a little that I'll never do that again, that every time I think I see him up head in on the sidewalk, I'll be wrong ... and at the same time, here he is, right here in these three delightful, pedantic books, alive as long as books are). So I've got this set in fine condition, in case any of you out there want it.
I also surfed the karma at the Annex, as all habitual used bookstore-haunters must do. If you treat such idiosyncratic places the way you would Home Depot, just waddling in and EXPECTING to find that copy of Derrida you want at that moment, you'll never find anything that you want, EVER, because your presumption offends the gods of fate. But if you go in with vague semi-wants and a wide openness to what the karma of the place has to offer you, you'll almost always end up the richer for it.
Take today, for instance: somebody either died or gained citizenship, because the Annex had virtually the entire works of the German novelist H.H.Kirst, who's totally unknown now to American readers but who once enjoyed a string of best-sellers. The most famous of these was "The Night of the Generals," which was made into an uneven, enjoyable Peter O'Toole movie. Adn there was his entire life's work, spread out before me for 25 cents a pop! So I bought "The Night of the Generals" and "The 20th of July," which I'm assuming is about the famous attempt to blow up Hitler. The cover blurbs of these two books are loaded with superlatives - I'll report back on whether or not they involved blowjobs.
Slim pickings for me today (check back with me in a few days for Pepito's customary shrimp-trawling of crap): Justice League Unlimited #24, "Alone Among the Stars," and Fantastic Four #539, "Decisions Made." I like JLU for reasons that will seem strange to all you young people out there slavishly reading my every word, because you grew up reading comics where things CHANGE, where even long-established characters DIE, and most especially where writers are always trying to outdo each other in delving the depths of each character's psyche. Marvel comics have pretty much always been that way, but there's another way to tell a comics story - and nowadays, alas, it's relegated to comics 'for kids.' So I have to endure the sneer of the Androids Dungeon counter-monkey if I want to read a Justice League adventure that only lasts one issue, where Superman is always wholesome, Batman is always clever, Wonder Woman is always slightly aloof, and, in the case of this issue, the Martian Manhunter is always noble and a little melancholy.
Don't get me wrong: I love the complexity of modern comics. I wouldn't go back to the days when all comics were simple and uplifting, even though I miss those days. But in the meantime, I very much enjoy these 'kids' comics - especially when they're this well done.
The FF issue is, of course, a Civil War tie-in, and it's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Ben Grimm finally comes to his senses and stops helping Iron Nazi and his gang to round up and imprison all his former friends who've gone underground. And when he's confronted with choosing between the two camps, he declares a plague on both their houses and ... wait for it ... announces that he's LEAVING THE COUNTRY.
An interesting, thought-provoking development, and I'll certainly tune in to the next chapter (although the writing on this one could have been better - I mean, is Puppet Master still controlling Iron Nazi and his crew? And if not, why not?), but it sure isn't 'and they all lived happily ever after.'
The only interesting thing in the new New Yorker is a piece about the merits - and lack thereof - to the late works of a handful of authors, written by ... astoundingly enough ... John Updike, an author whose books ALL read like late works, which, I guess, in a twisted way makes him a kind of expert. His piece is chock-full of Updikean bromides and clunky prose, but at least it gets you thinking about all the late-works by authors he doesn't mention. At least it got me thinking about such writers, from Horace to Wodehouse. If Updike ever learns how to be INTENTIONALLY interesting, there'll be no stopping him!
This month's issue of Asimov's had its requisite two interesting stories, although in this case (unlike in most cases), neither story is out-and-out good. In "Primates," David Levine theorizes on what would happen if a zoo's forensic analyst discovered sasquatch-type creatures. The story is pedestrian but interesting, although the climax and conclusion - relying on what is, apparently, the world's only perpetually self-recharging cell phone - only disappoint. And Ian Creasey's story "Silence in Florence" is even more frustrating - it centers on a serving-woman in the Pitti Palace who has a mute child and seeks a cure with the Duke's foreign visitors, whom she suspects are angels because they're constantly veiled and don't seem to eat or crap. Her trials and tribulations with her little girl and the palace doctor are moderately involving, I suppose, but the almost offhand mention that these visitors have been having spirited dinner-conversations with the Duke's other guest, frickin Galileo, REALLY made me wish Creasey had the fiction-sense Gawd gave a turnip and had written THAT story, instead of this comparatively lame little soap opera.
And that's it for periodicals at this writing - slim pickings as well. There's a new Men's Journal on the stands, but at first glance it appears to have very little of interest, so it'll have to wait. Likewise on the back burner is the upcoming Atlantic, which my friend Sebastian (a subscriber) tips me has an anti-JFK screed by Christopher Hitchens. So some good things will be coming to those of you who wait...