Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fairy tales and man-eating rabbits

So I’ve been reading a lot of fairy tales lately.

I know, that’s a weird way to begin anything — a blog, conversation, eulogy, anything.

But it’s true. I found some inexpensive collections of Italian and Irish fairy tales and bought them on an impulse. It might have been a cultural thing — I am partly Sicilian and Northern Irish — but I can’t remember putting that much thought into it.

Best I can recall, it went like this:

See books. Shrug. Add to stack.

People smarter than me like to talk about the morality of fairy tales. G.K. Chesterton wrote in “Orthodoxy” that, “Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense... I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon.”

Then, he expounds on how Cinderella teaches humility, Beauty and the Beast preaches that sometimes you must love something before it can become lovable and Sleeping Beauty teaches death can be softened into a sleep.

I don’t care about any of that.

Yes, I get that some fairy tales are cautionary stories. The moral of Red Riding Hood: Don’t trust strange men, especially if they have sharp teeth and excess body hair. The moral of The Frog Prince: Be nice to geeks. They will grow up to be Internet millionaires. The moral of Rumpelstiltskin: It’s OK to pawn off your work on an eccentrically named coworker.

A lot of them teach arbitrary discipline. “Find the third peacock after the waterfall and pluck a single feather.” “Why?” “Because you will find your true love.” “Why will a peacock feather help me find my true love? And why does it have to be the third peacock?” “Kid, do you want to find your true love or not?” “I guess.” “Then, take the freakin’ feather.”

But I don’t like fairy tales for their morals. In fact, I can’t think of a single story I’ve ever liked for its moral.

I’m from the Oscar Wilde school of thought. “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”

So why do I like fairy tales?

I guess I like the possibilities. I like that a dragon can be hiding in the cave. Or a giant. Or a man-eating rabbit.

I spend most of my life writing and reading about crime. After a few years, you become jaundiced. Very few things surprise me. Anger me, sure. Disappoint me, certainly. Depress me, God, yes. But I rarely get surprised.

I’d like to think my new fairy tale fixation is more than just escapism. It’s about hoping there could be something exciting in the cave, that a frog could transform into a prince or straw can be spun into gold.

I guess it never hurts to hope.

—Jason Lea,

P.S. I think the real moral of Beauty and the Beast is that attractive women should lower their standards until anthropomorphic antelope-bears look good.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Take Another Little Piece of my Hart Crane

As promised, a post on Hart Crane, commemorating the anniversary of his death.

Of course, I know nothing about Crane, so I had to call in the big guns. Today's post is brought to you by my predecessor and intellectual superior, Jamie Ward.

Ward used to cover police and fire for The News-Herald. Now, he is the sports editor for The Geauga Maple Leaf. He enjoys Dickens, a stiff gin & tonic, and reminding people he is the greatest basketball player they know.

And now, his treatise:

Hart Crane was a romantic homosexual poet whose poetry is highly metaphorical and who uses a lot of allusions to other poets. His father invented the Lifesaver, but despite his family's wealth Crane's desire to be a poet was never embraced by his father and so he never benefited from their money. His mother was a manic depressant after his parent's divorce. He died at a young age, tragically, and was the reason Harold Bloom became a literary critic, as Bloom read Crane at a very young age. He rejected T.S. Eliot, yet Eliot was probably his biggest influence. He was an alcoholic who committed suicide at the age 33.

I want to give you two pieces of information, one on which I labored for a few hours to find online to no avail but then found on my bookshelf. The other is from Philip Horton on Crane's suicide, which took place on this day 77 years ago.

Crane in his General Aims and Theories:

These dynamics often result, I'm told, in certain initial difficulties in understanding my poems. But on the other hand I find them at times the only means possible for expressing certain concepts in any forceful or direct way whatever. To cite two examples: when, in Voyages (II), I speak of "adagios of islands," the reference is to the motion of a boat through islands clustered thickly, the rhythm of the motion, etc. And it seems a much more direct and creative statement than any more logical employment of words such as "coasting slowly through the islands," besides ushering in a whole world of music. Similarly in Faustus and Helen (III) the speed and tense altitude of an aeroplane are much better suggested by the idea of "nimble blue plateaus" implying the aeroplane and its speed against a contrast of stationary elevated earth.

Although the statement is pseudo in relation to formal logic - it is completely logical in relation to the truth of the imagination, and there is expressed a concept of speed and space that could not be handled so well in other terms.

And then Horton:

When the ship docked in the harbor of Havana on the morning of the twenty-fifth to lie over for the day, Crane set out alone to make the round of his favorite bars and cafes. Possibly, he took luncheon at La Diana ... Little wonder that he was drunk when he returned to the ship that evening, a bottle of rum under his arm with which to pass the night!

As the ship weighed anchor, he set out to look for Miss Baird, whom he discovered at last in her cabin, where she was being attended by a stewardess for a painful burn on her hand, caused by a packet of ignited matches. For some time Crane lingered beside her bed, offering clumsy ministrations and sympathies, until at length Miss Baird asked him to leave.

Later, however, as his drinking continued, he returned time after time, now overwhelming her with endearments, now breaking out into harsh and bitter abuse, apparently without any provocation or aim beyond relieving the intolerable suffering again seething within him.

He seemed not even to hear her pleas to be left alone. Exhausted at last by his persistent violence, she summoned the steward and demanded that Crane be locked in his cabin. Late that night when he eventually broke out and began to prowl the decks, it was almost inevitable that his steps should lead him, as though automatically retracing a well-known pattern, down to the sailor's quarters. What happened there was never ascertained, though Crane's own story the following morning that he had been beaten and robbed would have been a likely enough consequence.

The next morning, the 26th of April, 1932, the ship was sailing just off sight of the Florida coast, ten miles off Jupiter Light. Crane, awakening rather late, threw on a light topcoat over his pyjamas and sought out Miss Baird to ask her to have breakfast with him in his stateroom. He told her of experience in the seamen's quarters, without, however, mentioning the final episode on deck and complained bitterly of the brutal treatment he had received.

They part of a bit.

... Crane once more knocked on her door, and entering, said that he wanted to say goodbye. Too preoccupied with what she was doing at the moment to fully comprehend the significance of his remark, Miss Baird asked him to get dressed and meet her for luncheon in a half hour. Without replying, he went out, shutting the door behind him, and ascended directly to the promenade deck. The sea was mild, and the sun, striking against the gentle motion of its surface, polished the delicate blue with sudden ripples of fire.

Heedless of the curious glances that followed his progress along the deck, Crane walked quickly to the stern of the ship, and scarcely pausing to slip his coat from his shoulders, vaulted over the rail onto the boiling wake.

This was written in 1926. It takes a reading or two, I think, but it one of the more accessible poems:

Garden Abstract

The apple on its bough is her desire,--
Shining suspension, mimic of the sun.
The bough has caught her breath up, and her voice,
Dumbly articulate in the slant and rise
Of branch on branch above her, blurs her eyes.
She is prisoner of the tree and its green fingers.
And so she comes to dream herself the tree,
The wind possessing her, weaving her young veins,
Holding her to the sky and its quick blue,
Drowning the fever of her hands in sunlight.
She has no memory, nor fear, nor hope
Beyond the grass and shadows at her feet.

-- Jamie Ward

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Friday, April 24, 2009

McDonald's, Comic Books and Skee-Ball, also known as How Jason Spent his Formative Years

My sister’s kickball team is named Menace II Sobriety. Their motto? We pregame like you party.

It’s Friday. Welcome to the melange.

I’ll go with the McDonald’s analogy for Patterson and his ilk. But, as we learned from Supersize Me, too much of that stuff will kill you.

People need more than James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark, just like they need more than Roberto Bolaño or James Joyce. Everything in moderation, right?

Except for Thomas Hardy and Skee-Ball. You can indulge in those things without abandon.

Speaking of junk food, I’ve made it my goal to find a comic book my wife will like. I was a superhero junkie back in my grammar school days. I eventually branched out to other uses of the genre. Now, I don’t collect superhero comics anymore but will still make the monthly pilgrimage to the local comic store. I’m collecting Terry Moore’s “Strangers in Paradise, Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” and a few titles from Brian K. Vaughan and Robert Kirkman.

You can buy comic trades from most book stores, but I still go to a comic shop. Because the best part about reading comics (or anything else, for that matter) is arguing with other people about it in the comic book shop.

I bought trades of “Y: The Last Man” by Vaughan for my wife. I figure she’ll like it. The story begins with the death of almost every male mammal on the planet. And, knowing my wife, I think she’d be entertained by Vaughan’s depiction of the gendercide.

The guys who run Comic Heaven in Willoughby have threatened to form an adult comic book club. (No, by “adult,” I do not mean pornographic.) A little wine, a little cheese, a little discussion of Frank Miller. (Personally, I think he’s a misogynistic hack, but your mileage may vary.) It’ll probably never happen; but, if it does, I’m taking Tricia with me.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. The anniversary of Hart Crane’s death is Monday. That would be a good opportunity to write about him, wouldn’t it?

P.P.S. I have a question for you, Tricia. What "classic" author do you think is the most overrated?

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Everything's right, and yet...

Sometimes a novel does everything right and still just doesn't click with a reader.

Such was the case for me with "Prayers for Sale" by Sandra Dallas (ISBN 9780312385187).

Set in a Colorado mining town during the Great Depression, "Prayers" is the story of the friendship between a veteran mountain woman and a young woman new to the region. It's a glimpse into a way of life I'm certainly not familiar with.

Dallas creates believable characters (I've got to say I'm hope I'm as strong at 86 as Hennie Comfort!), her pacing is terrific, the descriptions are detailed without bogging the story down, and yet...

While I enjoyed reading it, I just didn't have that connection with the characters that takes a novel to the next level for me.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The fragility of life

I've long been fascinated by stories that examine the fragility of life.

How easy it is for worlds to be destroyed in seconds, for lives to be forever changed by seemingly small decisions, for people to mark their time in befores and afters.

And so "An Accidental Light" by Elizabeth Diamond (ISBN 9781590513019) was a natural pick.

The novel opens with Jack Philips, a police officer on his way home one early November evening. A young girl darts in front of his car and does not survive.
He is not charged with a crime. But how can he move forward? In actuality, the tragedy forces him to deal with events in his past.

In that split second so many lives are forever changed: the girl, her parents, Phillips, his wife, his children. The ripples are far-reaching.

The mother's grief is palpable: "I would have given anything not to drive by this place where it happened. I would wonder, if I stopped the car and got out and walked over towards the middle of the road and peered down closely, would I still see a stain of blood? ... Would I have knelt down on the road and touched with my fingers that faint bloodstain where my daughter had lain dying?"

Philips' guilt and depression: "Things like that happen to people every day. A life gets ripped apart, gets thrown away. You think you're on one path, and then you're on another. You're lost. You may never find your way again."

Diamond's debut novel leaves you reflecting on how easily everything you value can be taken away.

And, I hope, with a renewed appreciation of those things as well.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A sure thing

I see part of your point, Jason, when it comes to these prolific authors, like Higgins Clark, Roberts and Patterson.

Yet, for me, that is part of their appeal. After a few disappointing novels that didn't live up to their jackets, I want a sure thing.

The books may not leave me speechless like most of Jodi Picoult's works or make me rush to call my mother and tell her to put it on her list like the works of Wally Lamb, but they satisfy. They are like McDonald's. Consistently delivering exactly what you expect, and just one part of a healthy reading diet.

And now for something completely different...

I've got nothing but praise for "An Egg on Three Sticks" by Jackie Moyer Fischer (ISBN 9780312317751).

Its heroine Abby tugs at the heartstrings. She reminded me of Astrid in "White Oleander" or Carrie in "Me and Emma" or Katie in "Durable Goods." These are girls carrying some heavy loads, captured perfectly by their creators. Abby's usage of the word "which" is so believably teen I was charmed from the start.

"Egg" is a portrait of a family coping with a mother's mental illness, and all that that entails. The emotional roller coaster Abby rides captivates the reader. Her love for her mom, her feelings of guilt, her desire to be "normal."

You won't want to put it down.

- Tricia Ambrose

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On Pandering and Patterson

I’m preparing a post on Hart Crane, because I believe in responding to the non-spam comments (and the occasional spam comments) on our blog.

However, my knowledge of Crane is nil. Consequently, I’m forced to rely on outside help. When my expert is ready, we’ll have some Crane talk. Consider these last two paragraphs a preview.

And, now, the continuation of the “pandering” discussion:

My objection to James Patterson is a simple one. The man doesn’t have stories he feels compelled to tell. He’s just a prolific writer who markets himself brilliantly. Is he smart? Certainly. Can he write? I’ve read worse. But he’s more interested in writing something popular than writing (or cowriting) something good.

Is there anything wrong with being a popular author? No. Hell, Shakespeare was a populist too. But Patterson cranks out three books a year, usually with the help of co-authors. He seems to be more interested in quotas than creativity.

I don’t begrudge Patterson his fans or his millions. I read “Along Came a Spider” in high school and liked it. I started reading “Violets are Blue” and thought it was the same book.

Patterson has a large audience, and I would never be presumptuous enough to suggest that I am smarter than any of them because I prefer Thomas Hardy to him.

Reading, like all entertainment, is subjective. Sure, some authors are better than others; but a lot more goes into taste than the quality of the prose. There are plenty of legendary authors who I don’t like. (Remember my diatribe on Dickens?)

However, suggesting we read James Patterson because he has a large audience ... that just might be pandering.

I haven’t read Nora Roberts or Mary Higgins Clark, so I can’t comment on them. They may be brilliant authors who deserve every iota of their success. They may be namebrand authors, churning out the same material for the last 20 years. They may be a little of both.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. On an unrelated note, Hart Crane’s father was a candymaker who once held the patent for Lifesavers. Unfortunately, he sold it before it became the world’s most famous hard candy.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Pandering to the masses? I don't think so

Why do you assume that my suggestion we read something more entertaining than "Dubliners" is pandering to the masses? I happen to enjoy some of those authors. Are you one of those people who believe that the popular cannot be good? Reading is a form of entertainment, remember?

I still recall the chills I got reading Mary Higgins Clark's "Where are the Children" and "A Stranger is Watching" while in grammar school. And there's no better go-to guy than James Patterson's Alex Cross. These writers, and others like them, deliver consistently. You always know when you pick up their works you will be spending the next few hours immersed in a mystery. What's wrong with that?

I guess "Handle with Care" it is then since we both mentioned the works of Jodi Picoult. You game?

- Tricia Ambrose

P.S. I didn't call you erudite. I said you liked to read works that were. And it wasn't necessarily intended as a compliment.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cleveland's Poet Laureate

Really, erudite?

If I’m so erudite, why did I need a dictionary to know that was a compliment?

Grisham? Patterson? Mark the date. At 2 p.m. on April 15, Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose decided it was time to pander to the masses.

If you want something newer and popular, may I suggest “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. If you don’t like that, I offer “Handle with Care” by Jodi Picoult.

But one of these days we’re reading “Welcome to the Monkey House.”

Just so we actually talk about something book-related, I have a question for you.

Who is Cleveland’s poet laureate?

While reading “Dubliners,” I wondered, “Who could capture the facets of our city as James Joyce did with his?”

Toni Morrison is from Lorain, and she’s talented enough to be anywhere’s laureate. But, while “The Bluest Eye” and “Sula” were based in Ohio, she has never written anything that struck me as a Cleveland story.

To me, the person who best qualifies as Cleveland’s writer is Harvey Pekar.

Sure, he writes comic books and not Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. Maybe he’s as likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize as be named poet laureate. But the man understands the city.

He got booted from David Letterman’s guest list for insulting General Electric. He worked as a clerk at a veteran’s hospital, after he became famous. He once said, “It makes you feel good to know that there’s other people afflicted like you.”

I say this with all due affection. This man’s the epitome of a Clevelander. In fact, I suggest we adopt the city motto “afflicted like you.”

-Jason Lea,

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What should we read next?

So, Jason, what book should we tackle next?

I know you spotted "Gone With the Wind" on my desk this week and mentioned that as a possibility. But that would be really long and I hate to use another book that I've already read at least once.

We had talked about perhaps trying a John Grisham or James Patterson novel. I know your taste runs to the more obscure and, shall I say, erudite, but I do enjoy a good thriller every now and again.

How about the latest by Mary Higgins Clark or Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult (I love her books!)?

Since we read my favorite book last time, it's your pick. What do you say?

Any other suggestions?

- Tricia Ambrose

On Bob Feller and Faust

If I ever meet Bob Feller, he gets one free punch.

I reviewed “Bob Feller’s Blue Book of Wisdon” which was written by Feller and a guy named Burton Rocks.

The book itself is unnecessary, if only because Feller and Burton Rocks (love this name!) already wrote “Bob Feller’s Black Book of Wisdom,” which tread the same territory.

Feller doles out common-sense advice (spend time with your kids) and talks some baseball when he runs out of life lessons.

But Feller doesn’t get to pop me because I dissed his book. But, in my review, I wrote:

Bob Feller is a legend.

He might have won a Cy Young Award for each finger on his incomparable left hand, if it had been introduced before he retired. He also sacrificed three of his prime pitching years so he could join the Navy and fight in World War II.

The problem with that? Feller had an incomparable right hand. His left hand only worked when the catcher tossed the ball back to him.

In Cleveland, botching a Bob Feller fact is a cardinal sin, tantamount to forgetting Jim Brown’s record for career rushing yards (12,312) or the mayor who lit his hair on fire with a welder’s torch (Ralph J. Perk).

So I apologize with my hand on Feller’s Book of Wisdom and a stack of Indians tickets that I bought from 1995 to 2002.

On a completely different note, I returned from a family vacation in Myrtle Beach Sunday. It was too cold to swim in the ocean, so I spent most of my time reading on the beach.

My dance card included “Dubliners,” “Faust,” Jeff Smith’s “Bone,” and a book of Italian fairy tales compiled by Italo Calvino.

(It would have been easy to spot me on the beach — I was the pale guy reading Goethe.)

I’m not going to bore both of my readers by talking about all of the books today. But I will say one thing.

I miss when writers would interrupt their own masterwork to tangentially attack their literary and philosophical rivals.

Goethe pauses his climactic depiction of Faust and Mephistopheles on Walpurgis Night, so he can take cheap shots at Friedrich Nicolai and Johann Caspar Lavater.

Goethe creates an analogue for Nicolai named “Spookybum.” The character has no purpose except to be insulted.

It would be like interrupting this blog to call my City Editor John Bertosa a nerd.

That type of vindictiveness, which requires an explanatory footnote, is exactly what I want to read while I’m slowly sunburning.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. The guy who reads fairy tales on the beach probably doesn’t get to call anyone else a nerd.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Thriller delivers

"In The Forest of Harm" by Sallie Bissell (ISBN 9780553801286) is a typical thriller. Which is not to say it's bad. Quite the contrary.

This novel delivered exactly what it said it would (how refreshing!).

"Forest" takes readers to the Smoky Mountains where Atlanta attorney Mary Crow and two girlfriends are enjoying a weekend getaway. Crow is returning to the area for the first time in the decades since her mother's brutal, still unsolved murder.

There's not a whole lot of character development. Everyone is pretty one-dimensional. Normally I find that a turnoff. But in this case (as in many thrillers), it works. This is not a psychological thriller. We are not meant to get inside either the killer or the victim's head. We are just along for the harrowing ride.

I have to say, the ending was not what I expected. Kudos to Bissell for not taking the obvious route.

"Forest" was published in 2001, and according to its jacket Bissell was going to continue the saga of some of the characters in a subsequent novel. I'll be sure to check it out.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Friday, April 3, 2009

A manly melange

I hate the Wizards more than Captain America hates communists. It’s Friday. Welcome back to the melange.

I read two books this week. Rick Bragg’s “The Prince of Frogtown” and Bob Feller’s “Blue Book of Wisdom.” Their full reviews will appear in the paper Sunday and April 7, respectively. (It made sense for the Feller review to coincide with Indians opening day.)

Here’s a web-only preview of the Bragg review:

Many men reach an age when they resent their father for either setting the bar too high or too low.

Either their dad never missed a ball game and taught them how to fish or shave; or he drank, couldn’t keep a job and disappeared whenever the police chief visited. Either way, the son feels cheated.

“The Prince of Frogtown” is the story of how Rick Bragg forgave his father for being the latter type.

Bragg has been working the fertile ground of his family history for a while.

“Frogtown” treads the same ’Bama-bred-and-born territory as his previous family histories, “All Over but the Shoutin’” and “Ava’s Man.” If Bragg wasn’t so funny or pained or honest, it might suffer from sameness. Yes, he does hit some of the same notes he has sung before. (There are a lot of big-hearted, blue-collar people in Alabama who can’t read. We get it.) But the song is still sweet and sad.

And, as Bragg explains, the sad songs are the ones that make you feel best.

Charles Bragg was a drinker. He got it from his father and passed it on to at least one of his three sons. He died of tuberculosis, alone.

Rick Bragg spent most of his life convinced that his father was the bad guy. He might be a sympathetic villain, but he’s still the guy who abandoned his wife and children, killed a family pet in the dog-fighting ring and drank the family broke.

On his best days, Bragg felt pity for the stranger that fathered him. More often, he felt anger.

Then he married a woman with sons and became a stepfather. His own paternal adventures forced him to reassess his dad.

“Over a lifetime I have known a lot of men in prisons, men who will spend their eternity paying for their worst minute on earth ... You do not have to forgive such men, ever, that minute. You can lock them away for it, put them to death for it, and spend your eternity cursing their name,” Bragg writes. “It is not all they are.”

“Frogtown” is a man tale. It’s a story about dads, sons and punching someone to prove you’re not chicken. It’s a story about drinking someone until you think fighting naked is a valid strategy. It’s also about forgiveness and junk like that.

I don’t like Bragg’s journalistic ethics (as I noted in a previous blog) but I cannot deny his skill. I rate “Frogtown” as: Celebrity guest appearances on sitcoms. It bordered on Delonte West YouTube Interviews, but my dislike for the author’s previous actions interfered with his score. (Before someone calls that unfair, I would never even review a Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair book.)

Bragg’s man story got me thinking. What happened to all the alpha male authors? Where are the Hemingways and Mailers? Not to get all Chuck Palahnniuk on everybody, but is the postmodern male writer a wuss?

Authors don’t travel to other countries to help fight their wars. They don’t punch each other on talk shows. They don’t get interrogated by Chilean dictators like Roberto Bolaño. I miss the alcoholics who can’t write without a pack of Lucky Strikes and glass of bourbon.

I’m not saying every man needs to be a snorting alpha male, but I like variety. I feel like there is no one left to inherit the mantle. No one who mixes a writer’s eye with a boxer’s hand.

Finally, I want to thank Betty, Ruth and Sarah for their identical input. Sure, it’s probably one guy from Nigeria spamming the blog, but I’ll take whatever comments I can get.


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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fully developed characters, at last

I couldn't put "Almost Perfect" by Dianne Blacklock (ISBN 9780425211625)down.

We first meet a single, somewhat eccentric bookstore owner, Georgie Reading. She's content running the shop with her sister-in-law. Flash cross town to a couple struggling with infertility. Flash back to the shop and a handsome stranger sets off sparks with Georgie.

You just know these stories are going to intertwine. And it's fairly obvious early on just how, but still I had to know how it was going to turn out. At times I wasn't sure whose side I was on (just like in real life).

Infidelity, both past and present, is a central theme of the novel. The characters explore it in shades of gray - not stark black and white, right and wrong. There is struggle. There is conflict. There is good writing!

It was such a welcome change from the last book I read.

Blacklock also wrote "Call Waiting" and "Wife for Hire." I'll be checking those out the next time I'm in the Bs.

Tomorrow: Something completely different, "In the Forest of Harm"

- Tricia Ambrose

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nothing to Bragg about

I reviewed the new Rick Bragg book for this Sunday’s paper.
Never heard of Rick Bragg?

What about Janet Cooke? Jayson Blair? Stephen Glass?

Bragg resigned from The New York Times after he was exposed for using others’ research as his own. He got in trouble after writing a first-person story about oystermen in Florida. He had the lone byline on the story even though most of the actual reporting was done by an unpaid intern.

Bragg can paint a picture with his pen. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for feature writing and, unlike Janet Cooke, didn’t have to give it back.

I like his Southern-fried prose. I liked it when he was a reporter and I liked it when I read “The Prince of Frogtown,” the last of three reminiscences on his Alabama family.

But my lips still tighten into a frown when I hear his — or Blair’s or Cook’s or Glass’s — name.

It’s how police officers must have felt when Dak Cochran was convicted on child pornography charges or firefighters felt when Michael Kaminski was charged with cocaine trafficking.

The feeling:

Damn it, this guy’s going to ruin it for us all.

Bragg is nowhere near as egregious as Blair, Glass or Cook. No one has accused him of making up stories, just taking credit for work that isn’t his. (And, honestly, he became the scapegoat for a caste system that existed in more than one large newspaper.) But what he did was still implicitly dishonest. He put a dateline on a story, knowing that he spent one night in the town while his intern pounded the pavement for him.

But when one reporter’s credibility is ruined, it affects us all. If it happened at The New York Times, why couldn’t it happen at The News-Herald, people might ask.

My grandparents never wondered if Walter Cronkite was lying. The public will never have that sort of trust for the media again. Not just because of Blair and Glass.

People have grown more cynical — not just toward reporters, toward everything. Name the last politician you trusted. How about the last baseball player?

Every home run feels like a countdown to a steroid scandal. All of today’s heroes feel like tomorrow’s potential villains.

It’s a lonely world where you can’t trust your morning newspaper, your president or your baseball team.

And while I like Bragg as a writer, I hate the Bragg who inadvertently contributed to that world.

-Jason Lea,

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This Gift disappoints

As promised, my weekend foray into the Bs continues today with "The Gifted" by Terri Blackstock (ISBN 9781595540614).

About the best thing I can think of to say about this "classic Christian novel" is that it was a super quick read. Absolutely no character development will do that.

The book was clearly labeled inspirational and made no bones about that fact that its religious message would be far from subtle, but I expected more than a sermon.

Blackstock's story centers on three co-workers seriously injured during an earthquake. The trio are mysteriously healed overnight, and each receives a different gift from God. They work together to use these gifts to spread the word about their faith.

I was fascinated by the premise. What would I do if I received such a gift? How could I use the gifts I have been given better? What could society accomplish if we all used our gifts together for a common good?

Disappointingly, the book is shallow. The story is told with a kind of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney classic let's-put-on-a-show vibe. Hey, we've been healed! Let's follow your feet and help people!

These weren't real people for me to be interested in. These were caricatures to use as examples.

I still find the premise interesting and I still have my same questions. This book did nothing to shed any real light on anything.

Tomorrow: "Almost Perfect"

- Tricia Ambrose

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