Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A few Richard Stark Books - The Dame, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score

I've been plowing through more of the Parker and Allan Grofield novels by Richard Stark.  As much as I write here, I can't imagine how much time that guy must have spent in front of the typewriter.  Keep in mind, Richard Stark was just one pen name of Donald Westlake, who was usually out writing kind of wacky crime and mystery stories.  The three books I just finished, originally pulpy paperbacks, all came out between 1968 and 1969, and the next one I'm going to pick up also was released in 1969.



But in writing that much, it's interesting to see Stark second guess himself, realize maybe he went a little off formula and come back to correct himself, especially with Parker.  It makes me wonder if he'd gone back and re-read the first Parker novels and seen how far afield The Black Ice Score truly was from The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face (still a great book title), and that, maybe The Black Ice Score felt a little, almost, cozy for Parker.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No Post Thursday - what I've been doing (class, books, end of the yearly cycle)

This evening I went to the gym, watched an episode of Mad Men Season 5, did some pre-ordering of comics, and got pretty far along with the first unit of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I've started through Canvas.

When I get through the first week, I'll post some personal and professional observations as someone who (a) has read comics for a long, long time - including a good chunk of the assigned reading, (b) who actually does care about gender representations in media - but maybe not in a particularly prescribed way, and (c) who worked in distance education for a decade before moving on to digital libraries.  As bonus featurea (d) I already went through five years of undergraduate education in narrative media studies, and (d) I sort of have my opinions regarding scholarly writing when it comes to social criticism, so...  it's turning out to be an interesting experience already.

It's going to be a long post, and only, likely, I will care about it, so...  look for THAT.

Speaking of gender in comics and pop-culture, yesterdays post on why it's okay for Power Girl to have a "boob window" got a fair number of hits.  By that, I mean, we were around 95 last I checked, which is, like, HUGE for this site.  I never know what's going to get traffic.  I fully expected upwards of 18 clicks.

I am making a commitment to just admit I am going to just read all the Richard Stark novels and nothing else that is not a comic until I finish the Parker and Grofield series.  And then I have, literally, ten books to get through.


  • I'm about a quarter way through the Larry Tye Superman book Nathan gave me, so that might get read while I work through the Stark novels.
  • Dark City Dames by Eddie Muller - a book with bios of a handful of noir sirens, including sections on Audrey Totter and Marie Windsor
  • Altered Carbon - as recommended by Steven
  • the next three Barsoom novels starting with Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • Doc Savage, Man of Bronze - personally recommended by no less than Chris Roberson
  • The Big Screen  - a non-fiction book on the history of cinema
  • The Killer Inside Me and After Dark, My Sweet, that I've been putting off for, literally, almost twenty years
  • the new Glenn Wheldon Superman book  
  • a Dashiell Hammett collection


As I said on the Facebooks today, I need more time to read.

So, no recommendations for a bit.  My plate is full.

Jamie's birthday is passed, and mine is next Friday, so if you're around and want a cocktail, email me.  We may be doing something about drinks on the 13th.

We have a yearly cycle that starts at Halloween and ends with my birthday.  Really, from Halloween, it's something every few weeks, including Valentine's Day, then March - the months of birthdays, etc...  And, of course, Easter and Mother's Day take us into May.  At this point I'm used to it, but it does seem like it compresses time into the various observances.  Summer has become my holiday from holidays, except for July 4th, which includes explosions and hamburgers and is thus becoming one of my favorite holidays.

My folks are headed back to Kenya for missionary work/ putting eyeglasses on Kenyans.  Always proud of them in their volunteer efforts.

Mad Men Season 6 starts Sunday night, so, leave a brother alone while he does his thing.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signal Reads: The Green Eagle Score (a Parker Novel)

This is what I like about a Parker novel.  On Saturday I had a rainy day, and while I'd started the book at the doctor's office on Tuesday (I'm fine.  Just getting the annual inspection.), I read all but those first 23 pages today.



Like other Parker novels, it's difficult to imagine the heist pulled off in the modern era of paranoid security, electric systems everywhere, etc...  But people don't really change all that much, and so the stories still work very, very well.

Since The Jugger - but really, starting with The Score, Stark wisely began fanning out his narrative attention a bit more on the other characters in the books.  Probably the closest I'd point to in something you'd be immediately familiar is some of the feel of the "let's check in with our villain" of the Ocean's 11 franchise.  The characters don't have to be right next to Parker throughout the novel - the narrative eye wanders and gives us some background on some of these characters, some of whom then proceed to die just a few pages later and without much attention paid to their fate.

It's an interesting narrative trick as you definitely get a complete picture of the story, but you also know that Stark's narrative in invested in the story and isn't going to get sentimental about  a character just because we spent two or three pages with that person, learning their inner thoughts.

The Green Eagle Score is about the payroll heist of an Air Force base in upstate New York.  Parker leaves Claire, whom he picked up in the last book, The Rare Coin Score, in Puerto Rico, to chase down a haul put in front of him by an old comrade whose ex-wife is shacked up with a clerk in the finance office on the base.

The book takes a telegraphed but no-less fascinating left turn into the usual complications of a Parker heist, but it's so wildly different from the complications of The Seventh or even The Handle, that it doesn't feel like old hat, even in the 10th Parker novel.

Good, fun read.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Adapting "Parker" for the big screen and changing the rules

"Civilized people need to follow rules.  These are mine:
I don't steal from people who can't afford it and I don't hurt people who don't deserve it.  Most importantly, you say you'll do something and you don't, I'll make sure you regret it."

I'm not an expert on Richard Stark's character Parker, but I have read several of the books in the Parker crime-novel series.  They're short, easy to read, good airplane stuff.  I'm not even sure there's an arc to Parker's character development until around the seventh book.  That's, as we say, a feature, not a bug.

I really like Parker novels in part not because I relate to Parker as a master-thief, but because I think in some ways I relate to Parker as someone who spends a lot of time planning things out, enough so to improvise if things go poorly, but I also become fairly irritated when people's quirks and personalities get in the way of the plan when - darn it - we all knew the plan.

However, I am just slightly less inclined than Parker to actually straight up blow up my co-workers if I feel they messed up a project.

There's a movie coming out based on one of the later books in the Parker series. Hollywood being the clever folks they are have named the movie Parker, and are not starting at the beginning of the series. You've likely seen ads with Jason Statham and (yes, people are still hiring her) Jennifer Lopez.

I find it fascinating that J-Lo actually has fans in 2013

The quote above is from the Parker trailer.  If the trailer looks like a standard, inexpensive Jason Statham action movie, I am guessing you are not far off.  The critics at Rottentomatoes certainly seem to feel that way.

The quote of Parker's rules - the thing that gets you to know the character and makes you interested in the character - is not from the books and, really, if casting Jason Statham wasn't a weird enough choice, this little good-guy-thief code has nothing to do with Parker's rules or the purpose of those rules in the series of books.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Some end of week Media: Bernie, Where Danger Lives, Ghosts of Belfast, Downton Abbey

Watched two completely different movies tonight.  Bernie and Where Danger Lives.  These days I'm re-watching movies less and trying to see new things more.

Bernie was shot somewhat locally by Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater and got a lot of local praise when the movie was released, but I don't know how far and wide it was seen outside of Texas.  A true story of a mortician (Jack Black) and his nebulous relationship with an older woman (Shirley MacLaine) and how everything's relative in a small town in Texas, including murder.

I'd heard a lot of good things, and the locals both cut into the movie in "interview" segments and playing themselves were a very clever twist.  I just wasn't sure the movie actually worked all that well, especially as the murder - which is a matter of public record - doesn't come til the 2/3rds mark...

Probably worth a spin sometime.

Also watched Where Danger Lives with Robert Mitchum, and it's sort of a studio-friendly take on the Detour concept.  Frankly, that is one crazy movie and I'll need to watch it again.  It's so noir, it's almost dripping black off the screen, with Mitchum getting in way, way over his head, while drunk and concussed with a classic femme fatale who doesn't have Ann Savage's brutal, sexy cruelty, but has her own more recognizable looney-tunes-ness.  It's a great "and mistakes were made" kind of story.  Bonus points for brazen sexuality in a 1950 film, all through a lack of camera movement and a few key lines of dialog.

Started listening to the audiobook of The Ghosts of Belfast.  It's an interesting book thus far, and I wish I knew more about the history of the IRA, but even what little I do know is sort of keeping me up to speed.

Last night we tried our first episode of Downton Abbey.  I can't say I exactly see what the big deal is, but it was the pilot.  We'll try again later.  I do not get hot and bothered often by Upstairs/ Downstairs-type dramas, and it's so over the top, it does feel like camp.  Is this show supposed to be camp?  Someone help me out.

All right.  I'm tired.  I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

author's note:  2012 is a year I have been looking to put behind me for quite a while for any number of reasons.  Obviously the events in my personal life marked a very sad end to the year for us at our house.  Perhaps we should declare 2012 Annus Horribilis and move on.

With recent events weighing so heavily on me right now (and with this post started a long, long time ago), I'm going to stick to pop culture and the original, intended tone of the post - and this blog - and take a look back instead at...  yeah, I guess comics and whatnot.

here we go.


The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown




My Totem for Everything About my Pop Culture Hobbies in 2012

My relationship fundamentally changed with my hobbies and past-times, and superhero comics have begun to dip below the horizon to the same place Star Wars went circa 2002.  Because of travelling and the fact I was sick a lot this year, I also didn't really make it out to the movies very often.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dang, there's a lot of "Scrooge" movies

Like most folks in US/ Canada/ England and other parts of the Dickens-reading world, I'm a fan of Dickens' shortest and most-on-the-nose work, A Christmas Carol.

On Sunday evening one of my favorite movie versions, the 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott, was on AMC.  It was a good era for special effects, before things went crazy with CG and filmmakers knew how to work within their limitations but had made art out of editing, shadows, light and fog machines.  As Scrooge, George C. Scott doesn't come off as goofy or immediately redeemable, but he does appear human - the smiles at Fezziwig's made all the more meaningful as they crack the ossified grimace, or the realization of what is coming as he witnesses his own future.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Signal Reads: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)

I have not seen the film of Winter's Bone, and now it'll be a while longer before I'll feel comfortable watching an adaptation.  I always need some space between the book and the movie or it runs the risk of ruining both for me.

The story, from what I gather, isn't too much changed in the filmed translation, so those of you have seen the movie may not have seen a story that deviates much on plot points.


The novel is set in the near past if the comments made about what's on television are any indication (the book loosely describes characters watching the now-defunct series Wishbone on PBS), located within a few miles of the hilly forests of the Ozarks where the secretive, backwoods families run their business outside of law and society, dealing with each other in brutal fashion.  These days they make and sell crank, but they still spend generation after generation expecting short, ugly lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Signal Reads: The Rare Coin Score (1967)

This is the 9th Parker novel, and while I enjoyed the 8th novel, The Handle, it didn't feel as strong as prior efforts.  With a dozen more Parker books to go, I was a bit nervous that at some point, possibly due to the prolific nature of dimestore writing, if Stark had found his pattern and was sticking to it.  While The Seventh had its moments, I was definitely feeling a pattern (and I loved the ending of The Seventh).

This book breaks the mold a bit as its the first book in a while to deal not just with Parker's internal working as an operator, but The Rare Coin Score (1967) introduces Claire, who I understand is Parker's romantic partner in future books - and thus a bit of character development we haven't seen before.  That said:  Romance being a relative term in the Parker novels.



As a collector myself, the idea of someone taking advantage of a "Con", to pull a heist of rare and valuable items all in one place, definitely resonated.  Not to mention that the insider, Billy, is an excellent stand-in for some of the collector population of man-boys that find a home in a collector community but can't help but want to exploit what he sees around him.  Of course, once he's dealing with pros, he's terribly out of his league.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Signal Reads: The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by R. L. Stevenson

The only other Robert Louis Stevenson I've ever read was Treasure Island back in elementary school.  I remember it being quite good, but that was also 1984-85, so it's been a while.  I will also state that, in third grade, I read an adaptation for kids that was still very gripping to me at the time, and pretty scary, but I think it had elements from the movies sprinkled in.

I have seen multiple version of the Jeckyll/ Hyde story in film, from silent versions to Mary Riley, so it's not like I was unfamiliar with the story, but as Dracula and Frankenstein are adapted again and again, the books they sprang from often seem forgotten entirely in the adaptation - so I wanted to give the novella a spin.  I found a copy a long time ago narrated by Christopher Lee, but it doesn't appear to be available on Audible anymore.  Needless to say, Christopher Lee is a tremendous talent, and his range suits the book incredibly well.

But this was my first time reading the actual novella of The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson.



Here's the thing about this book...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Signal Reads: The Damsel (1967) by Richard Stark

At the conclusion of the Parker novel The Handle, Parker and Alan Grofield have landed in Mexico City with Grofield licking his wounds and Parker leaving him there so he can get on with it.

Richard Stark (aka: Donald Westlake) spun off Grofield into his own sub-set from the Parker novels with The Damsel (1967), giving Parker's occasional co-worker with the head full of flights of fancy room to pursue his own adventures.



Structurally, it feels a bit like a Parker novel, but tonally, The Damsel is a lot lighter on its feet and a bit wackier in scope.  While Stark narrates both books from a third-person perspective, the attitude of the protagonists infiltrates the worldview of the book.  Parker's methodical, systematic, almost obsessive-compulsive perspective is ditched for Grofield's devil-may-care approach, and talent for improvisation and theatricality giving the adventure more of... an adventurous air.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Read: At the Mountains of Madness (1930's)

Despite his profound impact on much of the fiction I consume, I've never read or consumed any actual HP Lovecraft.  Like everything else, I just never got around to it.

What I'd read about Lovecraft's writing was interesting.  Even by his fans, he's not considered to know much about how to turn a phrase.  The term "purple prose" comes up a lot in the sniffier descriptions, but everyone acknowledges his wild imagination and ability to generate a palpable sense of dread that other writers strive for, but force with nameable threats and terrors.

With Halloween coming, I figured it would be a good time to finally delve in and check out what all the fuss was about.



I will not say At the Mountains of Madness is my new favorite novel(la).  But it is a fascinating work - complete in its mythology, striking in its building of atmosphere and dread, and it feels like a single man's efforts to restrain an entire culture's imagination and mythologies, pouring them out onto the page with force rather than cultivating smaller ideas and lulling the reader with craft.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Signal Reads: Solaris (1961)

There is nothing like a beloved Polish sci-fi novel written in 1961 to make you feel like a complete idiot.

That was a better book than I was a listener.

I once saw the Russian film of Solaris circa 1994, but I'll be honest.  I'd had a lot to drink, and I don't remember anything about it at all, but when people would ask, I'd say:  Yeah, I've seen Solaris.  It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't exactly true that I remembered seeing Solaris.  It's like saying you've been to San Diego, but you've only been to the airport.


So, on Jason's fiance's dad's suggestion, (I could have actually sat down and read the book, but that isn't going to happen, so) I purchased and listened to the audiobook of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.  It's no lie that Greg is a much smarter man than myself (and you, too.  Seriously, meet Greg some time), and while I am sure Greg got more out of it than me, the book didn't disappoint.

It was also the rare book that I finished with the absolute certainty that I was going to read it again, because while I had grasped much of the book, I also knew that, thanks to the linear format of the audiobook, what I would have done to re-read certain parts, to flip back and forth in the book to piece it together when new information presented itself - I was just caught up in the flow of the story being told as it unspooled on my iPod.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Signal Reads: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I was born into the Cold War, and I often wonder if The Kids whose sense of awareness crested after 1992 really understand what it was like.  As far back as 2001, I was taking a martial arts class where the "adult" class meant high school and up.  After class we were putting on our shoes and chatting and somehow I managed to ask one of the kids if they even knew what The Cold War was.  Long story short, he knew it had something to do with Russia, but he didn't know why we may have been in conflict with The Russkies.



It's now been more than 20 years since I sat in class and watched video of Germans dancing on the wall, and I still don't really understand how one day we had An Evil Empire with whom we were locked in the world's worst staring contest, and the next, we had Eastern-block countries cut loose from Mother Russia and spiraling into fresh, new problems (see: Sarajevo) and Russia deciding that a government based on something that looks an awful lot like gangsterism should take the place of the death-mask Stalinist taskmasters.*

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Handle (a Parker novel)

The eighth in the line of Parker novels, The Handle places master thief Parker in several odd positions.  Most of the prior stories occurred above the Mason-Dixon line and detailed Parker working with a team of professionals.  This one has Parker working, for reasons of his own, alongside The Outfit, the bloated, corporatized mob from the first three or so Parker books.  The score settled between the two and pragmatism the word of the day, and The Outfit has hired Parker to crack a nut they can't solve.

Off the coast of Galveston, by forty miles, a casino has been built by a man with no affiliations with The Outfit.  Of course, that's bad business to have vice occurring so close to Outfit territory but with them getting nothing, so they'd like to see if Parker can rob the place blind and then shut it down.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hello, Babies

On Wednesday evening I finished listening to God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater via audiobook.  I had read the most quoted part of the book on a poster by a local artists of some renown, a Mr. Tim Doyle (who once owned and managed a comic book shop in a mall beneath a dormitory), and the quote stuck with me the way some of these things do.  What the poster said was this:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
It is the blessing Eliot Rosewater plans to bestow upon a pair of twins born to an arsonist of ill-repute who has asked him to lead the proceedings at the twins' baptism.

Just so you know, I have been asked to officiate a wedding this coming winter. Should I be asked to officiate a baptism, the above quote shall be included in my remarks.  Other excerpts will be taken from The Bible, Ray Bradbury, and Kanye West.

Anyway, I finally consumed the book recommended to me long ago.  Thank you for the suggestion.

But now I feel like I need to read Slaughterhouse Five again.  Or all the Vonnegut novels I've read.  Again.

So it goes.

At any rate, a fine book and an interesting read as the presidential election blares out of every orifice of media and we all pound our chests about our understandings of who gets ahead and how and how we choose to look at one another as a matter of policy and, according to this novel, a matter of sanity.


Friday, August 10, 2012

We read more Parker: "The Seventh" and the graphic novel of "The Score"

The Seventh

The Seventh is, probably not-coincidentally, the seventh book in the Richard Stark (pen name of Donald Westlake) series of books about Parker, the tough guy master criminal who first appeared in The Hunter.

In this volume, following a particularly well-planned and executed heist that should have landed him a nice chunk of change (something sorely needed after the disastrous conclusion of The Jugger), Parker is hiding out and playing it cool when he comes back from a quick trip out for cigarettes and beer to find the girl he's been shacking up with stone cold dead in an apartment that's still locked and shows no signs of forced entry. And, of course, not just Parker's take (his seventh) is gone, but the whole take from the heist.

Stark never explains Parker, never spends time on much other than notes about characterization, and there's never a why.  All we see is Parker on the job, and it's not some writerly oversight.  Nobody gets insight into what makes Parker tic - be it his partners, the people he goes up against, or the reader.  We know he doesn't like small talk not just because the limited omniscience narrator tells us, but because Parker tells people rattling on at him to shut up, and he seems to appreciate the slain girl not just for her bedroom acrobatics, but for her agreement that they can sit in silence for hours if they've nothing to say.  But we never see a young Parker becoming Parker (at least by this seventh book).  Heck, we never even know his first name.

This book follows what happens not when a heist goes wrong, or a run in with the Outfit, but the unexpected occurring, and throwing Parker off his game.  We always get to see little pieces of Parker, and this book gives us an opportunity to see Parker wrestling a bit with making the smart move versus doing what he wants to do from a gut level once he's been shown up.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

All I've Been Doing has been Watching the Olympics

No movies.  No comics.  Basically, I've got none of my usual stuff to cover.

I've really been enjoying watching Volleyball.  Men's.  Women's.  Beach.  Otherwise.  I love the pace and the athleticism, and, of course, watching May-Treanor and Walsh-Jennings again has been a lot of fun.  The addition of Longhorn Destinee Hooker to the US Team has been just terrific.  It's great to see her get attention on such a huge stage.

I watched Little Girls' Gymnastics, and that was very sweet.  And seemingly not a headcase in the bunch.

Archery was pretty great this weekend, and this coming weekend I get to see Track & Field, the one time every four years when I watch those events, but I can't wait.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Watch: SuperGods by Grant Morrison

In some ways, I feel like I could send the dozen or so regular readers of this site a copy of SuperGods by Grant Morrison and call it a day with The Signal Watch.

The basic breakdown of the book is equal parts comic book history and Grant Morrison's personal journey and how it associated with comics, eventually becoming his career, which, he reports, is fairly lucrative.  If you read your fair share of comics history and Grant Morrison interviews (and I do), then there's not a whole lot new in the pages, but what Morrison manages to do is what he does so often in the comics he writes: takes an existing idea and takes it on a new journey with a new thesis statement.


The bits of bio about Morrison are what's been reported in comics press: working class Scottish upbringing, hippie anti-nuke parents, punk-era-living under Thatcher, bands, a really vocal attachment to his cats (man, I hear you), early comics he's still talking about, etc...  And if you've read your David Hajdu, Lee Daniels and Gerard Jones, the comics history stuff is mostly known.  However, it's interesting to hear about it through Morrison's filter, what grabbed him as a kid, what grabbed him as a young man, and as a guy at the tipping front end of Generation X (I consider myself the last, dying gasp of the X'ers before Y came along assuming the internet was a foregone conclusion), how we looks at Miller and Moore's books in relation to the industry.  And, of course, he gets to talk a bit about the guys he works with who have been making comics history for the past two decades and more.