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April 24, 2005 - James Dean, Philip K. Dick, and Don King together (again?) in one column?

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Book Wrangler

April 25, 2005

By Bob Patterson


In a column written earlier this year, this columnist noted that, due to the fact that actor James Dean was killed in a car accident 50 years ago, there was likely to be a goodly amount of books concerned with that particular star published this year.


There will not only be a choice of book, but also of James Dean events, too, since there will be a special event, June 3-5 in the town where he was born, Marion Indiana - and also one in September, in Fairmount, where he grew up.


As part of our fact finding for the James Dean trend we obtained a copy of The Rebel, which is Jack Dann’s fictional account of what it would have been like if the rising star had survived the car crash. 


Most articles about alternative history fiction make a reference to a groundbreaking work written by Philip K. Dick.  While we were pondering the task of undertaking an effort at refreshing our memory with the details of Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Tower, a friend presented us with a book written by Hendrik Willem van Loon titled Invasion, published by Harcourt Brace in 1940.


It, too, is an example of an alternate history novel, but we had never heard of this pre-war book or its author.  The book tells the story of a former newspaper man, named Hendrik Willem van Loon, who escapes from the Nazi trend in Europe, and experiences, in the summer of 1940, the Invasion of the USA by the Nazi military forces.  (Doesn’t this make you wonder if PKD read this obscure item when he was a kid?)


It is a small book and a quick read that will entertain the casual reader and astonish a topic hungry columnist.  It has 203 pages with big type and large margins.  It seems that some articles in Rolling Stone magazine may have had a bigger word count.


Some of the ancient gripes the newsman presents sound very up to date.  The bad guys are swarming over the USA’s southern border.  “Our customs people in Laredo told me that they were like a plague of locusts, forever trying to slip across the frontier and being pretty nasty and hoity-toity about it when they were refused admittance….”


Using your real self as the central character in the center of fabricated events sounds familiar, especially when you come across such gonzo sentiments as:  “The hotel too is filled with the smirking swine.”


Colleges, back then, seem to have been populated with teachers who would fill the students heads full of leftist ideas.  It sounds like some prescient writer was throwing out some warm up sentences for later use in The Savage Nation, perhaps?


Reading about the battle of New York City, might remind some folks of the famous 1938 Orson Wells broadcast about an invasion from outer space.  In van Loon’s book, when the Nazis do invade the USA, the passages describing the destruction in New York City might make some present day readers get a tad squeamish because of the parallels with some actual events in modern day.


Van Loon points out another favorite topic of today for the conservative talk show hosts: the workers in Manhattan gripe about needing to get alternative information to balance what they read in the Times and the Tribune.  The author makes one fearless forecast about the future.  Sometime in New York City’s future, according to Mr. van Loon, the Times and the Tribune will merge.  Wouldn’t that author love to see a copy of the Times-owned International Herald Tribune?


In 2005, a reader is jolted by the realization of just how primitive communication was back in those days.  According to van Loon, the invaders sneak a “plane carrier” ship into Hudson Bay and launch an aerial attack on Detroit from the ships lurking undetected in James Bay.  The author remarks that such a potential move was a real possibility and that such a dastardly sneak attack had been feared and discussed for a few years previously.


The Book Wrangler did some Google searches and the existence of this intriguing bit of anachronistic literature seems to be almost invisible on the Internet. 


It’s doubtful that the number of folks who would find a review of this obscure 65 year old book of interest may be rather small compared to the number of folks who are eagerly awaiting the publication of the newest Scott Turow novel, but that’s one of the advantages of writing for an independent online magazine with an open-minded publisher who hopes we can build a more specific circulation base, with more esoteric items.  (Thanks, chief!) 


Like the Book Wrangler, the Los Angeles Times, noted that it was time to do a page about James Dean and his continuing appeal by doing a full page (E-8 and a big blurb on the cover) appreciation of the 50’s icon in their entertainment section on Sunday April 17, 2005.


For those readers who have skimmed this far this week, we’ll mention some other more relevant items for book readers looking to find something without the effort needed to scour used book stores.


All Those Mornings… at the Post by Shirley Povich ($27.50 Public Affairs) 

Any guy who could forge a sports writing career with the first name of Shirley, surely had to be a great writer.


Like a Rolling Stone by Greil Marcus. ($25 Public Affairs) 

One of the most eminent rock critics writes about Bob Dylan.


They Just Don't Get It:How Washington Is Still Compromising Your Safety - and What You Can Do About It by Colonel David Hunt ($25.95 Crown Forum.) 

Will Hugh Hewitt plug this book on his radio show? 


Spanking the Donkey by Matt Taibbi  ($24.95 The New Press) 

What went wrong?  Karl Rove thinks it all went according to plan.


Chore Whore by Heather H. Howard ($24.95 HarperCollins) 

Will anyone outside L. A. or New York City know what a PA is?  (Not counting our regular reader in Concordia Kansas.)


A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment: Savage Pastimes by Harold Schechter  ($24.95 St. Martin’s Press.) 

Did you know that H. Rap Brown actually said:  “Violence is American as cherry pie.”?  He didn’t say apple pie.  You could look it up in Bartlett’s.


Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang by William Queen ($24.95 Random House) 

Can a non-fiction book by an undercover law enforcement officer who infiltrates a very tough motorcycle club be considered part of the gonzo genre?


The 2005 Book Expo draws neigh and speculation is building (you’re reading it right now) about the possibility that there might soon be a dramatic news release from fight promoter Don King.  Does the fact that the newsworthy event for authors will be held in New York City (June 3-5) where both Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken work, have anything to do with this baseless conjecture about a confrontation rematch?


[Note: Book Expo’s opening night speaker will be actor Billy Crystal author of 700 Sundays which will be published by Warner Books in the fall.]


In Invasion, this quote can be found on page 25: “But he had answered by return mail that his German readers would undoubtedly object to such a violent indictment of their beloved Führer.  That would mean the loss of several customers and therefore he thought it better to play it safe, for times were difficult and every penny counted.”  Wow!  Imagine that.  Publishers back then were afraid to let journalists speak their mind because of commercial considerations.


If the events in van Loon’s novel had come to pass, the guys in the 18-wheelers would be listening to music with German lyrics, while they traveled Route 66, eh?  Well, now if the disk jockey will play Truck Stop’s song Ich Möcht’ So Gern Dave Dudley Hör’n, we’ll gulp down a cup of 200-mile coffee and haul out of here for this week. 


If your friends are waiting for the newest Scott Turow novel, please share your copy of the New York Times Book Review section with them.  If you think they might like to read something like the next installment of the Book Wrangler column, then please send them a copy of the Just Above Sunset homepage URL and suggest that they try clicking around our online magazine.  Odds are the material for next week’s column will be collected at the 2005 L. A. Festival of Books.  Until then, watch out for those fellows with the radar guns, slow down, and have a good week.




Copyright © 2005 – 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,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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