Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Here Comes the Summer

Hey there, dumplings. Don’t seem like there’s a whole lot to go over for May. Most of my work this month has been in progress, and as such, I don’t have a whole lotta links for you. But let’s see what I do have.

First things first, the Let’s Exploit Everybody! quartet keeps a-trundlin’ along, thanks to my threadbare motley crew of writers I’ve got making class-A contributions across the board (and of course, there are spots for the lot of you: get a hold of me at for all the deets). First up, Alec Cizak takes 1981’s The Burning to task, and the irony is not lost on me how well he deconstructs its supposed deconstruction of the sub-genre. Matthew C. Funk sent me this here next piece on the 1974 soft-core flick Emmanuelle a few months back when all this Charlie Sheen nonsense was burning up the charts. Being a regular ol’ stick-in-the-mud, I tend to shy away from anything smacking of a distinctly topical flavor, but I’ll be goddamned if the Funkster didn’t nail this particular topic right on the head. If anybody could, it’d be that guy.

Reviews are always fun, except when they’re not. Fortunately, the couple I had go up this past month were. Over to the Pop Matters, I read Betty White’s latest book, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t). When you get right down to it, the book is just kind of a fluff piece, and were I even more cynical, I would say it was clearly published really quickly in order to capitalize on that actress’s new-found resurgence in popularity. But as you can see from my review, I find Betty White to just be too damn nice for me to be that cynical. Plus I’ve enjoyed her work my whole life, so that buys her a whole ton of slack, as far as I’m concerned. Also, my good buddy Brian Roe has started running comics reviews over at the RSquared Studios blog, and he was sweet enough to ask me to pony one up. So read my review of Brian Clevinger and Juan Doe’s Marvel one-shot Iceman & Angel here, and then dig the other reviews and neat stuff featured at RSquared.

Holy cats, I almost completely forgot: new Crime Factory, kids! Issue #6 features such highlights and lowlifes as Jed Ayres, Libby Cudmore, Tony Black, as well as Eric Beetner, who gives us a story with my favorite title of the week, "My Asshole Brother." Punch the clock, you workin' stiffs.

Last but very far indeed from least: Chris Rhatigan recently opened up his own bloggyspace to short reviews of crime fiction on the web, and that old softy AJ Hayes recently contributed this little number about Luke Nineteen Twenty-Seven, the collaboration by Cameron Ashley and me that is available for your reading pleasure at Plots with Guns. As you might imagine, Cameron and I are flattered beyond description to be recognized by one of our esteemed colleagues in this way. I’ll tell you, kids, though I’m sure you don’t need me to: this writing gig can be a pretty rough one at times, and a lot of those times, it has to do with self-doubt. Y’know, it just feels like you’re talking to yourself after a while, and sometimes, it’s as though you’re shouting into the void. It can make your throat sore, I don’t mind telling you. So when work you’ve done manifests this sort of recognition, it’s a very welcome salve.

Jeez, I just don’t feel like I’ve given you kids enough to read. Luckily, the back files have got us all covered. Last year around this time, Laura Roberts of Black Heart magazine (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, this is the same lovely lady for whom I am guest-editing Black Heart’s upcoming noir issue) had planned on running a feature including some summer reading lists from writers whose tastes she trusted. I was summarily delighted that she asked me to contribute, but alas, the feature itself never saw the light of day. So, seeing as how it’s just about summertime again, I thought I’d share with you dearhearts of mine this little ol’ list I knocked together which, as per Laura’s request, consists of books that hold rebellion as a central trope in some way, shape or form. I leave you with this, my babies, and I’ll see you all back here in thirty or so...

Hey, kids, it’s your uncle Jimmy here. That sultana of the sultry, Ms. Laura Roberts, asked me to add my five cents to your summer reading list, focusing on a theme of literary rebellion. And as my track record clearly shows, I never refuse the request of a well-read woman. So get them library cards out and them bifocals on, we got some book learnin’ to do this summer.

1. Catch-22 by Joesph Heller—If you’re over the age of 25 and still haven’t read this, now is the time to correct that woeful misstep in your life. Largely based on Heller’s own World War II experiences, this novel does little to add to the romantic rose-colored visions of that ever-popular war that permeate our culture. Yossarian, the novel’s protagonist, is far from a typical hero; if anything, he’s a total coward. But the anti-establishment themes set down by this book were indispensable to the anti-war movement in America that soon followed the book’s original 1961 release. And speaking in strictly literary terms, this book defies normal expectations, creating a decidedly non-linear narrative that will leave you in the dust if you don’t pay attention. Trust me, you’ll look a lot smarter on the beach reading this rather than Jacqueline Susann or anything like that.

2. The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski—Speaking of non-linear narratives, do yourself a favor and check out this 2005 crime novel by one of the neo-masters of the neo-genre. A crime novel full of anti-hero types with nary a sympathetic character in sight hasn’t exactly been a fresh concept since George V. Higgins wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1972. But Swierczynski puts a new spin on the whole she-bang by writing in a Mustang-paced, quasi-vignette style, with plot twists that’ll break your neck if you’re not wearing protective gear while reading. Double up with Swierczynski’s non-fiction history of bank-robbing, This Here’s a Stick-up!, and you’ll never wanna have to work for a living again.

3. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain—Even thirty-five years later, despite everyone’s best efforts, punk rock is still the most rebellious form of the already rebellious rock and roll music the kids like so much these days. Of all the reading one can do on this subject, Please Kill Me is the only book I know of where the entire story is told straight from the horses’ mouths, with no framing questions or agenda aside from giving the straight dope (pun very much intended). Since McNeill was on the ground floor of the original New York scene of the late ‘70s, you won’t get a whole lot in here about the burgeoning west coast scene of the same time period. But you will get to read all about the misadventures of the Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Dictators, and many, many more of the biggest names in music that your grandparents hate.

4. The Devil and Sonny Liston by Nick Tosches—Muhammad Ali is still widely considered to be the greatest boxer who ever lived. But ask Beowulf: what’s a hero without a villain? Charles “Sonny” Liston was at one time officially the greatest boxer in the world, although few concerned wanted such a mean, mad giant of a man to be the representative of the sweet science. From his murky beginnings as the son of a sharecropper to his mysterious death in the early ‘70s, Liston’s true story is painstakingly crafted here by Tosches, one of my personal writing idols. Tosches clearly sympathizes with Sonny and his tragic life, but this does not prevent him from keeping an unflinching look at the man’s life and career, including charges of dive-taking and sexual assault. Sure, Ali may be a symbol for the civil rights movement, given his conversion to Islam and refusal to fight in Vietnam. But you want a rebel? Look no further than Sonny fuckin’ Liston.

5. The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey—It don’t get much more rebellious than this, children. Really wanna make your parents re-think sending you to public school? Then bring this slender black tome to Aunt Sally’s to read before Sunday dinner. Originally published in 1969 by little Howie LaVey, this book proves the hippie era wasn’t as totally boring and lame as most of its hold-overs are. The detailed rituals towards the end are kind of a snore, and a lot of LaVey’s philosophy is pretty much the warmed-over Nietzsche his detractors claim it is. But it’s got Satan! Read this, and then go read Paradise Lost again and try and tell me Satan ain’t the hero of that story.

All right, my loves, that’s all for me. While you’re all out playing in the sprinklers and counting your mosquito bites, I’ll be in my room, digging for more literary gems for your perusal. You’re quite welcome, indeed.