Review—The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

James M. Cain’s first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is a short violent book that was “banned in Boston” for its sexual content. Written in 1934, the obscenity was extremely tame by today’s standards. I liked this, typical of the dialog: “I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.”

The title is metaphorical. There is no postman in it. It’s more a reference to the fact that something will always come back to those who commit evil. One way or another, there’s no escape. The story moves fast with tough dialog and a murder being planned. The lover’s, Frank, the drifter, and Cora, the Greek’s sexy wife, are into it with no turning back. I kept picturing Lana Turner or Jessica Lange, “a woman ready for anything,” as I read it. That’s the trouble with seeing the movies before reading the book, even though it’s been years since I saw them. But it didn’t destroy the pleasure of the book—gritty, sultry, excellent writing.

On the back of the book, Cain is quoted: “I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man…has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent.” Good advice on writing.

Cain helped set the standard for noir fiction. I highly recommend it.



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Revisiting ’75 Books Every Man Should Read’

Last week, Esquire republished their 2008 list, 75Books Every Man Should Read with much reaction. For example, Men Need Only Read Books by Other Men, Esquire Post Suggests, which references a comment that I thought was telling:

what bugs me most is the explicit claim that men don’t want to read women authors. things is, they don’t. because of publications like esquire.

The writer of that little item obviously thinks men are automatons and that Esquire somehow has an influence on a man’s psyche so significant that his reading choices are forever tainted toward maleness—women authors need not be consulted. Hogwash. These lists just aren’t that important. Most people know they’re imperfect from the start.

Roxane Gay at htmlgiant doesn’t think so. In her article The Well Read Man she says,

We keep having this conversation over and over and over again. Editors continue compiling these lists of great literature that completely ignore great literature by women as if  books by women were never written, as if that literature doesn’t matter, as it that literature is somehow less deserving of an audience than the same old books trotted out every time we talk about great books. This pervasive and persistent erasure is tedious. Some people will say I’m over thinking this and that may be true but if I’m overthinking this list and the larger issues lists like these speak to, the editors of Esquire and their ilk are not putting enough thought into the lists they make and the messages those lists send.  I am quite comfortable erring on the side of thinking too much than to giving something inadequate consideration.

I don’t know that it involves “overthinking.” It’s more like “oversensitivity.” While I have yet to do such a thing, I bet that if I were to create my own list of my favorite books, I’d have quite a few women represented—and not because they are women, but because I liked their books. For years, one of my favorite authors has been Annie Dillard and this year I discovered Zadie Smith, a fantastic writer. It’s either good writing or it isn’t. Gender has little to do with it.


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Review—On Paris, by Ernest Hemingway

A Review by Jesse Freedman at Powell’s Books:

On Paris, a lean collection of Ernest Hemingway‘s dispatches while working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star , provides an unfettered glimpse into one of the author’s most significant periods of stylistic evolution. Originally published between 1922 and 1923, the articles are divided in their coverage between three primary topics: French politics, Parisian cafes, and American tourism. A fourth topic — one which permeates the collection, but which is not discussed directly — is Hemingway’s development as a writer. Taken together, these broad categories of reflection reveal a budding, sometimes temperamental, writer assembling a detailed vision of France’s social and political landscapes in the wake of World War I. This vision manifests an admiration for the French and their spirit, but furnishes an equally enticing image of the young newsman on the precipice of change.

Read the whole thing at the “review” link.

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Old Thoughts on Jack Kerouac


The Jack Kerouac house in Orlando

Thanks, Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac out of the cannon?

Kerouac: Life is too sweet to waste on self-propaganda

NPR: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

NYT—Featured Author: Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac and The Grave Fault

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Elmore Leonard Interview, Part 3

From Crimeculture, via The Official Elmore Leonard Website:

Charles Rzepka, is working on a study of Elmore Leonard provisionally entitled Being Cool.  This is the third installment from an interview conducted in 2010.

Read the previous two installments, here and here.


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50 Quotes of Albert Einstein

From this isn’t happiness—a sample:

  1. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
  2. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  3. “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
  4. “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
  5. “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”


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Zombies, Werewolves and Ghosts.

A WSJ article called The Season of the Supernatural says,

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: Literary authors jump on the fantasy bandwagon, unleashing an onslaught of zombies, werewolves and ghosts.

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My Book—What I’m Up Against

As well as many other writers….Found at The Centered Librarian:

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.

70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.


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Our Literary Justices

From First Thoughts: “The nine justices on the Supreme Court are a surprisingly literary bunch.”

What do Nabokov, Hemingway, Montesquieu, Wittgenstein, Stendhal, Proust, Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner, Solzhenitsyn, and Trollope have in common?  They’re all readily mentioned by Supreme Court Justices when asked about influences on their decisions and their style of writing. There’s no case here to be made about how literature and philosophy are important because they’re the guiding forces behind Supreme Court decisions.  But these interviews show that literature does not merely serve to entertain the Justices: it also has framed their way of looking at the world, and, more importantly, the ways in which they approach composing decisions.


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Review—Chump Change, by Dan Fante

The Los Angels Times called Chump Change “passionate, obscene and quite wonderful.” It is passionate and obscene…and well written, but wonderful? I must admit that my brief forays into Charles Bukowski and John Fante, the author’s father, have taken their toll. I keep remembering that one of my best friends in college, a bright and for a time successful businessman, ended up a derelict on the streets of Cleveland. He died too young because of alcoholism and left his wife—a friend also—and daughter in a pretty rough financial state. I used to drink with him while in college—never saw it coming. I knew when to quit drinking and could. He didn’t and couldn’t and it killed him. So when I read about the utter degradation of what an alcoholic goes through, such as Dan Fante skillfully put on paper in Chump Change, I somberly think of my old pal and what might have been—except for the booze.

Continue reading

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