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Monday, Jul 19, 2010
Take a tour of Storyville where Jazz began and murder prevails, bringing in the likes of David Fulmer's hero who is as good at solving crime as he's crippled by his love of an irresistible whore.

There are few better ways to get a feel for early American history than as the setting for a taut mystery thriller. David Fulmer picks up the story of his intense Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr in New Orleans in 1908, after the Black Rose Murders of his prior novel, Chasing the Devil’s Tail. It’s a time when motorcars are beginning to clog up the streets and crowd the horse-drawn hacks, wagons and surreys over the cobbled roads. The “banquettes” (sidewalks) are teeming, stogies are lit with “Lucifers,” and Williams Jennings Bryant is the running favorite for president against Howard Taft.


At least equally important, St. Cyr’s friend, bandleader and cornet player Buddy Bolden recently passed from the scene after starting a new kind of raucous music called “Jass.” Marked by “loud brass, shrieking clarinet, and thumping bass fiddle,” the sound is now moving down to the big city where bands are spreading in the bars and nightclubs of the quarter the Sun Newspaper has branded “Storyville”—the only legally chartered red light district in the country.


That’s where Tom Anderson, aka, “King of Storyville,” and a state senator, operates his famed Basin Street Cafe’ and Annex, a thriving business and venue from which he holds court and rules the district like a monarch. Here Valentin St. Cyr keeps watch over card cheats, pickpockets, drunkards, hopheads, dope fiends, and other ill behaved rounders while keeping security watch over the high class bordellos nearby. For this he receives weekly envelopes from Anderson and the madams, full of gold Liberty dollars.


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Monday, Feb 15, 2010
The late J. D. Salinger's masterpiece has long been the spark of debate, but in the high school classroom it still might be the best book of its kind.

On 27 January 2010 J. D. Salinger died at the age of 91 and the world promptly began mourning him. Several eulogies were written, printed and posted in various media sources [including a eulogy of Salinger’s Seymour Glass written for PopMatters by Chadwick Jenkins (5 February 2010)]. Once again, as happens every five years or so, it became popular to wax poetic about the literary achievement that was a nice little book called The Catcher in the Rye. Accordingly, as happens every five years or so, it also became popular to talk about how overrated The Catcher in the Rye is (see Aaron Sager’s “Why I Dislike ‘Rye’: Not be-Holden to Salinger’s ‘Catcher’”, for example, PopMatters 11 February 2010)


The Catcher in the Rye holds a very singular place in the world of literature. It’s a classic to be sure, but it’s often thought of as the classic—more than a coming of age novel; more than a great coming of age novel. The Catcher in the Rye is the Citizen Kane of coming of age novels, which means it pulls off a much more difficult trick than actually being the best coming of age novel ever written; it’s widely accepted as the greatest coming of age novel ever written.


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Monday, Jan 11, 2010
The holidays have come and gone. Any successful strategies for purchasing last minute gifts for literate loved ones?

Books are a great way to round out holiday gift giving. How do you choose titles for your loved ones (or other people in your life who happen to be literate)?


In the past I might have been organized enough to place an order at a major online retailer and have bargain fiction arrive at the door in time to wrap it up and tie it with a bow.


This year, however, with obligations stretching into the 11th hour and a 24 hour travel itinerary, shopping for books took a back seat. As opportunities dwindled, I set out in my quiet home town in northern New England to find some last-minute lit.


The public library’s used bookstore outlet (staffed by lovely volunteers) yielded a recently donated book by an author recommended by an historian friend, Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong (1993). I was supposed to start with Human Traces (2005), but beggars can’t be choosers. I was also pleased to find a well-preserved copy of Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions (2002), which I had recently taken out of the library near my university, determined to start in on one of Auster’s works at last.


In the town’s only retail bookstore I broke down and bought a new hardback copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s latest, Her Fearful Symmetry (2009). When I checked the shelf at first that space appeared empty and I thought I was too late, but the helpful staff located an orphan copy using their handy database system. With this title, I’ll admit, I was thinking not only of the to-be-delighted recipient, but of myself—my turn had come in the long line of waiting patrons at the public library near where I live these days, but the December loan was only for seven days and I barely made it halfway through Niffenegger’s captivating ghost story.


Under the tree, gift-wrapped and full of potential, I was glad to have gotten out around town and found some quality fiction, as well as to have supported local businesses. And when Her Fearful Symmetry was unwrapped and put down again, I snagged it from under the tree in order to pick up where I left off.


Is there a method to your holiday book-buying? Do you find it hard to select books for certain loved ones, or take up the challenge enthusiastically? Share your stories so I can plan better for next year!


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Friday, Dec 4, 2009

What would you pay for an original work of Edgar Allan Poe? How about a first edition of his very first book?


Would you care if his name wasn’t even on it? Friday December 4th, CBC reports, a slightly tattered, stained, well-loved copy of Tamerlane and Other Poems will go on sale.


Christie’s Auction House in New York estimates that the rare 1827 text will go for more than half a million dollars. The copy is believed to be one of only twelve still in existence, out of an original print run of 50.


Also being auctioned today are lots including interesting editions of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. Oh, to be a book-loving fly on the wall…


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Friday, Oct 9, 2009
Postmodernism in the 21st Century: Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You!

“Maybe when we die, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘I know this feeling. I was here before’.”
White Noise, Don De Lillo


An incident occurred in a grocery store aisle last Sunday afternoon that brought to mind Don De Lillo’s 1985 postmodern novel White Noise.


That’s how my brain is hard wired: everything gets filtered through a literary perspective. The ongoing contamination of beef in the US meat packing industry that was recently uncovered in the New York Times, for example, brings to my mind a discussion of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle that exposed those same filthy conditions in Chicago’s stockyards and led to the creation of safety standards that we are, apparently, not adhering to 103 years later. And if you tell me that you got a GPS microchip locator implant for your pooch, I’m going to sit you down for a short lecture on dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. You say you’re taking a trip to beautiful coastal Monterey, California? Well, have a seat and let me tell you all about John Steinbeck and if you already know about Steinbeck then let’s talk about all the great Steinbeck-related spots you can visit on your retreat to make it a literary delight.


I would bore my friends to death, if I had any.


So I’m at the Albertson’s grocery store on Flamingo Road and Haualapia (Who-All-Uh-Pie) Road in Las Vegas. I’ve gone down the entire list she gave me when I left the house and everything is in the cart: dinner for two nights, salad, milk, garbage bags, that El Salvadoran beer that I like, a bag of Starbucks Caffe Verona coffee beans, green onions, a couple votive candles, and…shit, I didn’t get the dishwasher detergent.


I steer the cart down the kitchen supplies aisle: Playtex rubber gloves, 409 cleaning spray, Oh-Boy kitchen sponges, Windex, Windex Crystal Rain, Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar, Windex Multi-Surface Grease Cutter, Windex Outdoor Multi-Surface Cleaner.


Finally, the dishwasher detergent section; to the left of me, in the liquid dishwashing soap section (I’m buying those hardened rabbit pellet things you drop into the soap drawer), two women, obviously acquainted with each other, are engrossed in conversation. There is nothing memorable to pass on about their physical appearance because I was too engaged trying to find the cheapest Cascade or generic Cascade knock-off I could spot on the shelf to even pay them so much as a glance.


“—so, once again, I was washing my dishes at my usual time, five o’clock,” one of the ladies says, “and the sensation overwhelms me once more: I want to bake an apple pie like nobody’s business, a fresh, hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream melting all over it. I can literally smell it.”


Sounds like an olfactory hallucination, I’m thinking.


“Five nights in a row!” she continues. “Straight up, five o’clock, when I go to wash the dishes I’m struck with an overwhelming desire to bake an apple pie. And then I finally figured out what it was.”


Out of the corner of my eye I saw her sweep a 13-ounce bottle of dishwashing detergent off the shelf.


“This stuff!” she proclaimed. “Jergen’s Fresh Green Apple. It is so aromatic, you wouldn’t believe it. I mean, it tricked my senses into thinking I wanted apple pie.”


I dropped the bag of Cascade into the cart and continued up the aisle, wondering if I had just been duped into watching a commercial product pitch disguised as live theater. You never know in this postmodern world.


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