After next week’s book event in Montclair, I’ll be heading to South Jersey for a Dec. 1 appearance at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Marlton. The talk starts at 2 p.m. and, as you would expect, there’ll be books on hand to sell and sign.
American Dictators just got its first book review. It’s from the Star-Ledger, and it’s great:
“A smartly written chronicle studded with serio-comic vignettes, a narrative of greed and violence, and the thorough research of an author who clearly relishes his subject.”
“Hart mines this trove artfully and seductively. He knows Jerseyans have a certain fascination with Jersey-strong miscreants. American Dictators is enhanced by such tidbits as the explanation of kickbacks to each machine (Hague preferred the term “organization”) by municipal workers.”
Just finished my first official newspaper interview to promote American Dictators, which will appear in the Jersey Journal in advance of the Jersey City Library Book Festival, just around the corner on Sunday, Sept. 15. The writer, Chinedum Emelumba, got a lot of history poured into her ear, and it’ll be interesting to see how much of it ends up in the finished story. I also got in a few plugs for my upcoming second novel, Echo, of which more anon.
Say hello to the spanking new second edition of my first novel, We All Fall Down. You will note that the new cover is not only much spiffier, it also capitalizes on the nice things the New York Post and The Star-Ledger said about the book when it came out. Not only is the cover better, but the interior text has been reformatted for a cleaner, tighter look. This is a book you can display with pride on your shelf, your coffee table, and your beach blanket, where it will cause all the other beach reads to slink away in silence. I’m serious. Buy the book, take it to the beach, and see what happens.
Because nothings says “It’s too hot to think” like bad poetry!
Long after those teenaged years when I thought Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was a work of great profundity, the Moody Blues remain a guilty pleasure. They forsook R&B to ride Sgt. Pepper’s coattails to wealth and fame, but they brought their songcraft along for the trip. “The Story in Your Eyes” is one of the great overlooked singles of the Seventies, and the poperatic “Nights in White Satin” was the perfect accompaniment to my Sorrows of Young Werther period. I can even listen to it now, as long as it doesn’t have that tacked-on album coda of purple poetry.
The poetry . . . oy.
I’ve always suspected Graeme Edge’s verses were a drummer’s revenge — a cry for help from a man who’d started with a harder-edged style and had to tone it down drastically for the sake of commercial appeal.
I think he definitely had an influence on the poetry of Spinal Tap.
Just remember — don’t try this at home. And if you do, don’t let it out of the house.
The strange thing about crime-scene photos is that their reality doesn’t immediately come across. Our notions about what death looks like have been so shaped by Hollywood movies that an image taken without artful lighting, music cues, and reaction shots throws us back on our own resources. In all the crime scene photos I’ve looked at, the flat lighting and utilitarian angles create a sense of distance that makes the dead bodies look unreal, mannequin-like. It doesn’t last, though, and as you take in the details you realize that you are looking at actual blood and brains, that those wounds caused real pain and death. Above all, in the worst pictures, you stare at the corpse’s face and understand that this is a human being who experienced the horror of knowing that death was coming.
That’s why I’m glad Gawker ran this crime-scene photo of Trayvon Martin. The Zimmerman trial has generated a higher-than-usual amount of vapid commentary on cable news, and the conspiracy claques have been hard at work coming up with fantasy scenarios that turn Trayvon Martin into a violent, hoodie-clad stand-in for every black kid who ever made you fume in your car as he took his smirking time crossing the street. I’ve even read crap that has the Kenyan Muslim Socialist trying to manipulate the trial outcome from the White House.
When it comes to personal firearms, policy is fear-driven and fantasy-based. Death Wish fantasies informed the Florida handgun laws that allowed Zimmerman to indulge his own vigilante fantasies. Variations of the same fantasies are driving much of the commentary I’ve seen.
So take a look at the photo and understand that this is the product of those fantasies. That kid sure doesn’t look like he was in a knock-down, life-or-death struggle with Zimmerman — not to me, anyway. But all I know is what I can see in that photo. That’s the reality of what happened. And, questions of good taste and journalistic restraint be damned, that’s why this photo should have been on every front page and every cable news channel.
Hold on to your hats, everyone. I just read An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media and I’m ready to share some of author Joe Muto’s discoveries during his years at Fox News and his stint as the undercover observer for Gawker. Fix yourself a good strong drink and take up a position near the fainting couch, lest these smokin’ hot revelations send you toppling in disbelief.
Are you ready?
FOX NEWS IS CONSERVATIVE! BILL O’REILLY IS A PRIMA DONNA WITH AN EXPLOSIVE TEMPER! GLENN BECK IS SUCH A KOOK EVEN FOX NEWS WORRIED ABOUT LOSING CREDIBILITY! SARAH PALIN IS A SELF-AGGRANDIZING NITWIT!
Oh, and Geraldo Rivera waits politely to use the vending machines and has a gorgeous wife.
An Atheist in the FOXhole offers a magazine article’s-worth of mildly interesting inside gossip larded with detailed accounts of backstage quibbling and entirely too much information on the personal life of Joe Muto, his breakups, his attempts to have a personal life, and his ongoing effort to convince himself that paying New York rents makes sense. It also has a running subplot showing how Muto, hired by Gawker to be a mole in the Fox News ranks — much the way the late, lamented Spy magazine had moles burrowing through the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — bobbed and weaved to avoid being outed by the Fox management. As a means of generating suspense, it falls considerably short of The Big Clock.
Muto spent the best years of his Fox period working under Bill O’Reilly, and while his depictions of the volatile top dog at Fox ring true, that’s because he isn’t offering much that we haven’t seen before. Though politically liberal, Muto ended up liking Bill-O even when he was living in dread of pitching the wrong story idea. It’s not hard to see why. One of the few roosters in the Fox News barnyard with a genuine news background, O’Reilly shows just enough independence along with his crankery to be an interesting figure. The first time I saw O’Reilly’s show, in which he interviewed an evangelical about his group’s stance on allowing gay couples to adopt children, I thought O’Reilly was pretty good. The Jesus whooper kept saying the group’s stance on gay adoption was in line with Blblical teachings; knowing he would come off barbaric and creepy, the whooper refused O’Reilly’s repeated challenges to articulate those teachings, and the ensuing game of rhetorical Whack-a-Mole was pretty entertaining. There’s no point in overpraising the man — his nonsense about secular progressives and the phantom war on Christmas is straight out of Bedlam. But in a shop dominated by GOP apparatchiks, ideological grifters, and race-baiting clowns, O’Reilly does stand out.
Fora man who spent so much time in the Fox trenches, Muto has remarkably little to say about Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter, all of whom are presented on the book jacket in what can only be described as consumer fraud. Ann Coulter, a nasty creep on camera, is very pleasant and warm offstage — wow, what an insight. Glenn Beck, for all his business savvy, seems like a true loon — hey, thanks for the analysis, dude. Muto’s prose style is competent without being particularly memorable: there are a couple of zingers, but not nearly enough to justify this forced march over too many barren pages. An Atheist in the FOXhole is a true disappointment: a book that promises much, delivers little, satisfies not at all.
One of the benefits of being a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is that when you turn your hand to writing thrillers, as John Sandford (aka John Camp) did in the 1980s with Rules of Prey and its numerous sequels, you have enough background knowledge and information-gathering skills to portray high-fliers and low lifes with ease and authority. Having trolled the gutters in his last three “Prey” novels, Sandford heads upmarket with Silken Prey, which tosses his detective hero Lucas Davenport into the middle of a scandal involving kiddie porn, kidnapping, and possibly murder, all with a high-pressure Senate race rumbling overhead. This is the most political novel in the series since Wicked Prey, which was set during the GOP national convention in Minnesota, but don’t let that scare you off. There are no polemics here, just a sharp awareness of how money and power skew everything, even a hunt for justice. Especially a hunt for justice. And Sandford is too much of a pro to let his political inclinations turn his characters into ideological puppets. Silken Prey is first and foremost a police procedural involving targets with enough money to buy off trouble, or pay to have it inflicted in spades on their enemies. Sandford himself sums it up early on: “Shootout at the one percent corral.”
A better comparison for this novel might be Secret Prey, which played its murder investigation against intricate corporate maneuvering during a bank merger — think The Bonfire of the Vanities crossed with Thomas Harris and you’ll get an idea of the novel’s unique flavor. Silken Prey doesn’t quite match that book’s dazzling high-wire act. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say there’s a promised confrontation that doesn’t arrive, which undercuts the finale just a smidge.There’s also a bit too much cross-pollination with Sandford’s other two series characters, Kidd and Virgil Flowers, which seems a little too gimmicky for this otherwise exemplary author.
Which is not to say Silken Prey isn’t as engrossing as its predecessors, just that it doesn’t hit the peaks of Secret Prey, Storm Prey, or the black sheep of the series, Shadow Prey. There’s a great deal of gallows humor on display, as when a character who’s a poster child for narcissistic personality disorder reads a description of the condition and angrily dismisses it point by revealing point.
There are also hints that Sandford may be preparing a graceful exit for Lucas. The series began in 1989 as a top-grade Thomas Harris knockoff in which the hero often proved as scary dangerous as the psychos he was hunting. By about the eighth novel it ripened into top-grade police procedurals, and now Sandford has been adding intimations of mortality to the mix. I don’t think Sandford will kill Lucas off — for one thing, his publishers know that too final a terminus will dampen sales of the backlist — but Silken Prey ends with an antagonist well positioned to put him out of the way, career-wise or in any other sense of the word. I think we’re going to see some interesting changes in the next couple of novels.
“Support the troops!” We heard it when Bush I sent U.S. soldiers to help Kuwaiti emirs reclaim their property from Saddam Hussein, we heard it a decade later when Bush II decided to outdo his dad by lying us into an invasion of Iraq, and I expect we’ll hear it again when the next president caves in to the neocons and starts dropping freedom bombs on Syria. Trees, SUVs, and TV screens will be garlanded with yellow ribbons to show we Support the Troops because we know, as surely as we know the Bermuda Triangle sucks up ships and dastardly Asians still hold American POWs captive, that during the Sixties those awful hippies spat on American soldiers when they returned home from Vietnam, and we must prove over and over that the Sixties are dead and done.
I’ve always had a hard time believing that spitting-hippies story, mainly because I have several relatives in different branches of the military, and I’m here to tell you that spitting on them simply isn’t an option unless you’re ready to test the limits of your health care coverage. If that’s true now, it would have been even more true at a time when hardhat construction workers were beating anti-war protestors in the streets, pundits and politicians were praising the National Guardsmen who shot down students at Kent State, and Ronald Reagan was openly talking about spilling blood to stop the demonstrations.
Jerry Lembcke had a hard time believing it as well, in part because he was part of the anti-war movement at the time and he remembers those dirty hippies actually went out of their way to welcome soldiers into their ranks. In The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, Lembcke searches in vain for verifiable, credible evidence that returning soldiers suffered such humiliations. Ironically, the only real evidence he finds is in accounts of older veterans — World War II and Korean War veterans — who showed open contempt for Vietnam veterans, especially those who participated in anti-war activities.
Lembcke also traces the origins of the spitting myth to the Nixon administration, that spawning tank of so many culture war shibboleths, and the role played by Hollywood movies like Coming Home in fostering the image of Vietnam veterans as basket cases and victims of betrayals back home. A short, punchy, still very timely work of history and cultural analysis.