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January 9, 2005 - "So many books, so little time."

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Book Wrangler

Sunday, January 9, 2004

By Bob Patterson


Back in the day when the other president from Texas started the other unpopular war, the New York Times used to have a little daily feature where it listed books being published that day.  They don’t do that now and I can’t find anything similar on the Internet.


Occasionally, to see if there is anything new of interest, I buy a copy of Publishers Weekly at the local news stand.  The book-oriented magazine has a web site but it is subscription only.


In fact checking for this column, I found the link to Locus, a magazine with the news in the science fiction area, was found.


Writing the weekly book column for Just Above Sunset online magazine, I often use the web site amazon.com to fact check duty to find things like the correct way to spell the author’s name, the price of the book, and to see who published the book.  I’ve often thought that they should have a small news page about publication news.  Usually folks go to Amazon when they have a specific book in mind to purchase (or fact check) and there is not much to inform you about new items that might possibly also be of interest.  You can’t buy a new book if you don’t know it exists.  They should have a page of news about what’s being published!  (Hint, hint.)  One of the rewards of writing this weekly feature is that the columnist/reporter has an excuse to go into a bookstore and see what’s new. 


Selecting what books to write about is a subjective process.  Mystery books are the kind we have bought and enjoyed in the past, so we check that genre regularly.  Next, we see just what there is that might be of interest to our regular Just Above Sunset readers.  That gets a bit dicey because the JAS marketing department hasn’t given us the latest reader profile.  Since the JAS editorial department is very interested in cultural developments in both Los Angeles and Paris (France not Texas) we tend to report any book relevant to those two cities.  The JAS staff likes cars, movies, music, and political analyses, so we might pass along anything of note in those areas, which we think our readers might like to know about. 


The book We’ll Always Have Paris was reviewed in the New York Times recently and the author probably got much more sales from that publicity than a plug here will produce, but some regular JAS readers might like to know about that particular book and perhaps they didn’t read the Times on the day the review appeared, so it gets a mention in this column.  We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930 by Harvey Levenstein  ($35 University of Chicago Press)


One regular reader of the Book Wrangler (NJ-Bill which is pronounced: Jersey Bill) has the unlisted LA phone number and will call from New Jersey to see what he should think about getting on his next trip to his local library.


Recently in one of those conversations this columnist recommended a book by William Kotzwinkle.  It started out with a recommendation for one particular book, about the difficulties guys have just growing up, titled: Jack in Box (done as the movie Book of Love.)   The writer is a relative and also a contemporary born (approximately) the year same year as NJ-Bill and the BW.  I mentioned there was some prejudice involved in the recommendation.  NJ-Bill had previously found a high level of enjoyment in some of our past recommendations, the fact that I liked the book was the clincher as far as his choice to follow up on the advice to read that one was concerned.  Since the writer, this columnist, and NJ-Bill, all grew up in Scranton Pennsylvania, it meant that some of the inside jokes for Scranton residents would cause our friend to chuckle.  On his first trip to the library, they the one he wanted had been checked out and so he selected another of Kotzwinkle’s novels. 


[What kind of material is there that can be considered “Scranton insider” humor?  Growing up in Scranton burning column dumps were a local phenomenon and part of the communal heritage.  A Google search for “culm dump” will produce just a few suggested URL’s.  This page has a definition for that term.  In Kotzwinkle’s book, burning culm dumps featured.  It’s a Scranton thing.]


On the subsequent phone consultation with the Book Wrangler, NJ-Bill found he had selected one that the columnist had not read.  It seems that Kotzwinkle’s literary production is formidable and there are many to choose from. 


On a later trip to the library, NJ-Bill selected Kotzwinkle’s Queen of Swords and we both had a mutual reading experience to discuss.


NJ-Bill noted that Kotzwinkle’s style and genre varies from book to book, which makes selecting which book to read next, also a bit of a dicey proposition because it is more of an unknown commodity.  For instance, if you like one Raymond Chandler mystery, odds are you will like them all, but that standard does not apply in Kotzwinkle’s case, but BW and NJ-Bill agree that a recommendation can be given en masse, because so far as far as we both can determine, Kotzwinkle consistently delivers well written interesting fiction.


What about Book Wrangler readers who don’t have the unlisted phone number?  Well, the columns for 2005 will be written with the admission that they are subjective and arbitrary and are meant to be judged on the batting average principle: If the BW found books that interested you in the past, odds are he will again.  If you haven’t been directed to a real “find” in the past, sorry folks, it probably won’t happen, but ya never know.


We will, during 2005, try to add to the Book Wrangler anything else we think might be of interest, and because Just Above Sunset is LA oriented, some of the information might be classified as local items, such as the next two pieces of information:


The Independent Writers of Southern California organization has had a thin schedule during December, but they are heading into the New Year with a new schedule of local events for writers in the greater Los Angeles area.


The Sisters in Crime, for mystery writers, is a nation wide group that has a Southern California chapter that is quite active.


When reading a book, this columnist often puts a small dot out in the margin to help go back and find the quotable sentences later.  Highlighting or underlining passages in a book destroys its value for a used book dealer, but who is going to notice those tiny dots?


Some of the passages we liked in William Kotzwinkle’s Queen of Swords (Berkley Books paperback edition) were: 

“The reason I have so many hobbies is owing to what Freud calls the secondary cathexis, a compulsive pursuit of trivial matter in order that the real truth, ever surging upward, might be ignored.”  (Page 28)


“It was as if I needed insecurity in order to know I was me.”  (Page 54)


“Never trust a writer.”  (Page 62)


“Middle age is a time for philosophy, for summation, for a long look backward over life, instead I was describing oriental vibrators."  (Page 139)


“The existential trap clanged shut, and as always when one sees what one really is, the great dread flooded me.”  (Page 161)


“He was on the way to becoming neurotic and tortured once more, like every writer I’d ever known.”  (Page 166)




Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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