Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Room (The Book Trailer)

Because this was an evening of Little League baseball, I'm running very late on posting today.  (My grandson's All Star team was eliminated tonight, 14-13, but my younger grandson is just starting summer league, so this will go on for a while longer - and I love it.)

What I want to share tonight is this book trailer for Room by Emma Donoghue.  This is a book I know absolutely nothing about except for what I learned from the trailer today - and now I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.  This proves to me just how effective a book trailer can be when done properly.  There's nothing fancy about this one, for instance, but that little voice really makes it memorable.

Take a look:

If any of you have read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts - about the book and the trailer.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession

Anne Rice seemed to come out of nowhere in 1976 when she struck publishing gold with Interview with the Vampire, the novel that opened the door for the countless vampire novels and movies that have followed it.  Rice had been published before under the name Anne Rampling, and had even published some erotica as A.N. Roquelaure, but with the help of Vampire Lestat, she became a star in the publishing world.  Her huge success with the first novel would lead to some fifteen novels on vampires and witches.

By the time Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, she had lost her faith in Catholicism and was an atheist.  Anne Rice was, in fact, an atheist for 38 years of her life despite the unusually strong ties she and her family have with the Catholic Church.  It was only in the late nineties that she felt that her “faith in atheism was cracking,” and that she needed to return to her Christianity.  Rice’s conversion did not take place in some magical flash of insight, or even in a matter of days or weeks.  It was a gradual process, and as she puts it, “It wasn’t until the summer of 2002 that my commitment to Jesus Christ became complete.”

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession is Anne Rice’s story.  It begins with her upbringing in New Orleans deep in the heart of a neighborhood in which everyone she knew or ran across was Catholic.  Rice was so dedicated to a religious life that, as a young girl, she decided that she wanted to be a Catholic priest.  She attended Catholic schools, went to church several times a week, and was so ready to spend her life in the service of the Church that she did not even consider settling for a position as a nun - and was shocked to learn that spending her life as a Catholic priest would be impossible.

Rice would finally be exposed to a wider world when she moved to Denton, Texas, to study at Texas Woman’s University.  There Rice found herself surrounded by students who had a much better sense of contemporary literature and who discussed topics that had never concerned her.  She would begin to lose her faith almost immediately, but it was a well-meaning Catholic priest who, upon learning of her childhood background, pushed her over the edge toward atheism by strongly advising her that she could “never be happy outside the Catholic Church.  You’ll find nothing but misery outside the Catholic Church.  For a Catholic like you, there is no life outside the Catholic Church.”  Something in the 18-year old student revolted at those words, and “when she left the room,” Anne Rice was no longer a Catholic – nor would she be for the next 38 years.

Called Out of Darkness is a remarkable memoir, one in which its author shares the intimate details of her upbringing, including the tragedy of her alcoholic mother, her tremendous problems with learning to read effectively, her marriage, the death of her young daughter and her husband, and her deep relationship with the city of New Orleans and its architecture. 

Anne Rice has lived a fascinating life, one of which most of her longtime fans have only been vaguely aware up to now.  This memoir explains her rather jarring transition, one that startled her readers, from writing novels about vampires and witches to writing fiction dedicated to telling the story of Christianity (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana and Angel Time: The Song of the Seraphim, Book 1).  Anne Rice fans will find this memoir particularly interesting, but her story is so unusual that even those who have not read her novels will be fascinated by what she has to say.

Rated at: 4.0

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My iPad and Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise

I made my usual Sunday morning stop at one of the Barnes & Noble stores in my area - I generally alternate between two B&Ns because I live pretty much equidistance between the two.  I looked all over the store for a book I remembered seeing a week or so ago in an email I received from B&N but could not remember the author or title of the book.  I remembered the cover in a vague sort of way and did know that it was nonfiction and what it was about.  I couldn't find it anywhere, however, and after finishing my other weekly book shopping, I chose a lucky salesclerk to ask for help.  (I felt a bit sorry for her since I could give her nothing firm to go on.)

We retraced some of my previous steps around the store before the woman noticed I was carrying my iPad under my right arm.  She suggested that I log onto the Barnes & Noble website to do a "key word search" for the book.  Sure enough, I typed in the words father daughter read and the number one choice was the book I wanted to find.  A quick double-click on the book icon gave us its ISBN number, after which we plugged that number into a B&N store computer to find its location in the store: the Biography section.

The clerk got to talking about reading e-books on the iPad since she owns one and her husband reads them from a Kindle.  She got a big kick out of finding the book with "Apple's help," a first for her, she said.  She will, of course, remain anonymous despite her extra effort to help me because she did not at all mind admitting that she is not a fan of the B&N Nook, much preferring the other two readers.

Now, let me tell you a little about this "hard-to-find" book.  It's a memoir (so why did I fail to look in the bio section?)  called The Reading Promise.  It was written by Alice Ozma, a young woman whose father read aloud to her every single night of her life from the time she was in the fourth grade until she left for college.  The original challenge was to make it through 100 consecutive nights; the reality was that they made it through 3,218 nightly readings.  I have to find out how they managed this seemingly impossible feat.

I'm going to cheat a little and start The Reading Promise relatively high up in my TBR stack instead of placing it at the very bottom where new books normally go - keep your fingers crossed that I'm not building my expectations up so high that no book could live up to them (a bad habit of mine).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Literary Movies and Other Movies Meant for an Adult Audience

Let me begin by saying that this is not a Netflix commercial.

But have you noticed how wonderful Netflix is if you are into "small movies," the type of movies whose main characters are not into fart and barf jokes (and all the other repulsive and simpleton film jokes that pass as humor these days)?  You know...movies made by adults for an adult audience over the age of 29.

I offer as a perfect example a movie that I watched beginning at 5:30 this morning when my eyes suddenly popped open and refused to close again even if it is Saturday.  Based on what I've been watching on Netflix for the past few months, the service suggested that I would enjoy a movie called Starting Out in the Evening, starring Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose and Lili Taylor.

Now, Netflix is not always correct in its assumptions of what I will enjoy, but it nailed it this time.  This is the official movie description, as copied from Netflix:
Starting Out in the Evening
2007 PG-13 110 minutes
With aims to revive the faded career of aging author Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), enterprising graduate student Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) makes his novels the topic of her master's thesis and raises his hopes for a literary comeback. All the while, Leonard's middle-aged daughter (Lili Taylor) remains dubious -- both of Heather's motivations and her own prospects for long-term happiness.

Cast:Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Lili Taylor, Joel West, Jessica Hecht, Adrian Lester, Sean T. Krishnan Director:Andrew Wagner Genres:Independent, Indie Dramas, Dramas Based on Contemporary Literature, Dramas Based on the Book This movie is:Emotional, Heartfelt, Sentimental, Understated
Can you believe it? A literary movie...who knew they still made these things?  So tell me, guys, what else have I been missing?  Frankly, I have been so fed up with Hollywood for at least the past 15 years that I have paid very little attention to what's coming out of that hotbed of sensationalism and immaturity.  But (and I promise that this is not meant as a free commercial), I have seen some really great foreign films, art house films, and other "small" movies since I signed up to Netflix a few months ago.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Is That Woman's Face Doing on My Book Jacket?

Caroline Leavitt
Think about it, fellow book bloggers and book lovers.

I have to believe that almost every one of us has dreamed, to one degree or another (realistically, or not), how cool it would be to see the our name on the cover of one of those books we have on our shelves.  What is not to like about being a published author, after all?  Well, one published author with eight books under her belt wants you to know that it feels much better when the publisher does not put someone else's picture on the back flap instead of yours.

As Caroline Leavitt says over at Salon.com, the fun started when she received a few copies of the Chinese version of her latest novel.  She loved everything about the book, even wishing she could read the Chinese translation, until her husband alerted her to the "author picture" on the book's back flap.
Not Caroline Leavitt
There, on my book, over my name in English, is a big color photograph of a complete and absolute stranger. The woman in the photograph is beautiful. She has straight, shortish hair where mine is curly and long, She wears glasses where I do not. She's beaming where I always try to look mysterious in my photos. The only thing we have in common is we're both women and both white.
...the mystery is solved. I know it could have been worse. What if the edition had been in America, where I know people and they know me? No one in China will ever know it's a mistake. And I tell myself an author photo is just window dressing. What matters is my novel, my writing -- that's what's important, isn't it?
To find out who the mysterious stranger is, how her picture ended up on the book jacket, and how her identity was discovered, please read the whole Salon article.  You'll get a kick out of the "other woman's" reaction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spycatcher: A Novel

Spycatcher: A Novel is very different from what I expected it to be.  This modern day spy thriller was written by Matthew Dunn, himself a veteran of Britain’s MI6, so I expected that the novel would be more realistic than most others of this genre.  I was only partially right in that assumption.  Dunn’s rendering of the relationship between the various intelligence agencies (American and British, primarily) and the way that complicated missions are so precisely coordinated rings true for the most part.  Realism, however, does not appear to have been Dunn’s chief objective for Spycatcher.

MI6 agent Will Cochrane is more superhero than human being.  This man apparently heals faster, and is able to tolerate more pain, than anyone else on the face of the Earth.  Within hours of taking three bullets to the stomach (and resigning himself to fact of his impending death), Cochrane is traveling back to the U.K. on a new mission for the American and British governments.  This new mission will take its own physical toll on Cochrane but he will again walk away from injuries (and tolerate unbearable levels of pain) that would kill, or at least disable anyone else for days, if not for weeks.

Surprisingly, however, this combination of realism and traditional James Bond style heroism works pretty well.  Cochrane is charged with capturing an Iranian terrorist before the man can trigger a major event in either the U.K. or the United States.  He does not know the terrorist’s name, his whereabouts, or any specifics of the man’s plan; he does not even know in which of two countries the attack will occur.  Watching Cochrane pull together a team to track down the terrorist is fascinating because the man they are trying to find is every bit as clever as anyone on the team searching for him.  The search, in fact, becomes a game of cat and mouse in which the roles of the two men are sometimes reversed as the terrorist begins to manipulate Cochrane’s efforts to locate him.

I enjoyed Spycatcher largely because Cochrane has more personal depth than a James Bond type character.  He is a man filled with personal conflicts that go back to his childhood and early teen years, years during which both his parents were shockingly snatched from him.  Now, he is dedicated to protecting those unable to protect themselves, leaving him no time for personal relationships.  His job with MI6 is his whole world.

My only complaint about the novel concerns its climax – a complaint that I will not attempt to detail because, to do so, would require me to spoil the ending for those who have not yet read the book.  I will simply say that a key decision made by one of the book’s main characters at the very end is so farfetched that it taints my overall impression of the book.  I am willing to suspend my disbelief in order to enjoy all the thriller aspects of Spycatcher, but this one scene is just too much to overlook.

That said, if you enjoy spy thrillers, and are looking for a new author and a new superspy, Spycatcher is for you.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

James Lee Burke / Alafair Burke Q&A

I love this self-produced Q&A featuring James Lee Burke and his daughter, Alafair, and find it cool that they would take the time to produce something like this while at what seems to be a family reunion up in Canada.  The questions, gathered from various fans, are read by Alafair's husband.

My favorite nugget from the piece?  Alafair was reading Cool Hand Luke at age five.

James Lee Burke is one of my favorite writers and the first editions I have of his first two Dave Robicheaux novels, Neon Rain and Heaven's Prisoners are two of the most prized books in my personal library.

I confess, however, to not having read Alafair yet - but it won't be long.  She writes a couple of series: one about Portland, Oregon, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid and one about NYC Police Detective Ellie Hatcher.  She also has a new standalone novel, Long Gone, that is scheduled for release next month.  I always try to read series novels in the order in which they are written, no matter when I finally get around to starting - and, since I have a copy of the first book in the Samantha Kincaid series on my shelves already (Judgement Calls), that's where I'll be starting.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Abandoned: The Big Rich

I suppose the odds were catching up with me.  After all, we are almost half way through the year and, until tonight, I have abandoned only two books.  I've been struggling more and more, though, with The Big Rich, a multi-person biography of the men who were so instrumental in building the oil industry in this state.

The book is interesting; that is not the problem.  I am giving up on it some 238 pages in (a little less than half-way through) but I have learned a lot about the key players, how this particular bunch rose to the top of the heap, how they managed to stay there, and how often some of them had to start over again.  Their surnames adorn buildings, streets, and businesses all over this state: Bass, Cullen, Murchison, and Richardson, primarily.  The University of Houston would be very different today if not for the money Roy Cullen donated to the school in its earliest days.  In other words, I have heard these names, and some of these stories, for my whole life.

But I began to struggle with the book when it focused on the conservative politics of the Texas oil men, and all of the national politicians who were so willing to come to Texas, kiss a little oil-man-butt, and take their money in exchange for favors to be delivered later.  That list of corrupt and semi-corrupt politicians includes, among others: Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Joe McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, and countless others.  Business as usual, I know - but I'm sick of reading about this country's political class and how incompetent and corrupt it generally is and has been.  This section of the book cancelled any curiosity I had to learn more about Texas's version of the Beverly Hillbillies.

When reading a book becomes as much of a chore as this one has become, it is time to shut the covers for good.  Now I remember why I abandoned my political blog four years ago.  Anymore, I react to politics and, more specifically, to politicians with a mixture of disgust and boredom - all of them.  I surrender.  This is Abandoned Book number three.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

The Girl in the Green Raincoat, Laura Lippman’s eleventh Tess Monaghan novel, was originally published as a serial in the New York Times Magazine.  Since I only became acquainted with Lippman’s work beginning with 2007’s standalone novel, What the Dead Know, other than a short story or two, this is my first experience with Ms. Monaghan – and I seem to be catching her at a bad time.

Tess, because of preeclampsia, is ordered to spend the last two months of her pregnancy on extended bed rest.  In a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Lippman has Tess move her bed out to her winterized sun porch for the duration of the pregnancy.  There, armed with a trusty pair of binoculars, Tess begins to study the dog-walkers who use the little park across the street from her house.  One walker, in particular, catches her eye - a green-raincoat-wearing blonde whose Italian greyhound always wears a matching green slicker on their walks.

When, one afternoon, Tess sees the dog sprinting through the park on its own, she fully expects to find the woman in the green raincoat running behind in a desperate attempt to catch up with her freedom-seeking pooch.  But this does not happen and, when neither the woman, nor the dog, has been seen for another day or so, Tess begins to suspect that something is very wrong.  So, as a means to avoid going totally stir-crazy on her sun porch, Tess decides to put her detective skills and experience to good use by tracking down the woman in the green raincoat to make sure that nothing has happened to her. 

Luckily for Tess, she has a crew-of-four willing to do for her what she cannot accomplish from the confines of her little makeshift bedroom: Crow, her boyfriend and father of the baby holding her prisoner; Whitney Talbot, Tess’s best friend; crackerjack researcher Dorie Starnes; and a most unusual private investigator, Mrs. Blossom.  As Tess grows more and more concerned about the missing woman’s fate, she will manage (much in the tradition of Rear Window) to move the investigation in a direction that places her sun porch in the middle of all the action.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat will work best for readers already at least a little familiar with the repeat characters from previous Tess Monaghan novels.  This one is very short, at just over 150 pages, and is probably best characterized as a novella rather than a novel.  That does not leave much room for character development in a plot that features such a large supporting cast.  Motivations, relationships, and personal histories that can only be guessed at by new readers are likely to be perfectly clear to Tess Monaghan veterans for whom the backstory is certain to be a significant part of the fun of The Girl in the Green Raincoat.  This is not a good spot at which to jump into the Tess Monaghan series.

Rated at: 3.5

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Philip Roth vs. Carmen Callil -Round 2 (Victory, Roth)

I have very limited time this weekend due to family obligations, but a couple of things did catch my eye this morning.

One is the Carmen Callil column from the Guardian's Culture section.  This is the piece in which Callil was to logically explain why she made such an ass of herself in regards to the Man Booker International award given to Philip Roth last week in honor of his "body of work."  As you will remember, Callil resigned from the committee in a snit after the award was announced, doing so in a way that was guaranteed to draw attention to her instead of allowing Roth to enjoy his moment.

So now comes the explanation, one written with much thought before going to print, one must assume.  This is the quote that particularly jumped out at me:
"So, to give this prize to yet another North American writer, when we had such great writers to choose from (the previous winner was the truly great Canadian writer, Alice Munro) suggests a limited vision, to say the least."
What is one to make of this brilliant defense?  Worthy Canadian authors (and Alice Munro certainly is one of those) are acceptable.  I highly suspect that Callil would have also jumped at the opportunity to give the award to a worthy North American from Mexico.  Does this mean that only American writers need not apply?

And, speaking of "limited vision," perhaps Carmen Callil should take a long, hard look at herself in the mirror.  Now that the woman has enjoyed her 15 minutes worth of fame, will she go away before she further embarrasses herself?  Not likely - she doesn't seem the type to retire gracefully from the field of battle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Franklin the Turtle Turns 25

Franklin the Turtle might be turning 25 years old in 2011, but he is still a little boy (and one of my favorite cartoons for other little people).

Franklin came along a bit too late for my own two daughters to enjoy him but he was well established by the time their own three children were beginning to watch a little television - and he quickly became a favorite of all of them.  The two boys took to him a little more enthusiastically, because of his gender, I think, than my granddaughter (whose particular favorite was Dora the Explorer), but she loved him, too.

And now, some 24 Franklin the Turtle books are available as e-books.

You've come a long way, little guy.

This brings back some great memories.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Final Storm

Jeff Shaara’s World War II trilogy (The Rising Tide, The Steel Wave, and No Less Than Victory) focuses entirely on the war as it was fought in Europe and North Africa.  Now, at least in part because he heard from so many WWII veterans and fans of his historical fiction that he should take on the war fought in the Pacific, Shaara offers The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific.  In this single volume, Shaara turns his attention to the final months of the war against Japan, particularly the battle for the airfields of Okinawa and the dropping of the two atomic bombs that finally ended the war.

As he has done in past novels, Shaara tells this story of brutal warfare through the eyes of some of the actual men who were on either side of the battle line, be they of the lowest or the highest ranks.  Among the many characters he uses, are three key “narrators,” Private Clay Adams, Japanese General Mitsuru Ushijima, and Colonel Paul Tibbets. 

Private Adams is a young marine whose recovering health has allowed him to return to the Pacific just in time for the fight for Okinawa.  Young Adams, who had to be hospitalized before seeing his combat, now feels superior to the green troops arriving with him, but he learns quickly that combat veterans are not ready to accept him as an equal despite this being his second arrival in the theater.  He will have to prove himself under fire first – something he will be given the opportunity to do many times over the several weeks it will take to wear down the island’s Japanese defenders.

General Mitsuru Ushijima is in charge of defending Okinawa and its precious air fields from the American invaders.  A realist, Ushijima knows that there is virtually no chance that he will be successful, and that the best he can hope to accomplish is to prolong the battle as long as possible while maximizing American losses.  He is willing to fight to the last man, but he knows that his best chance is to strike from within his vast network of caves and hidey-holes – no mass suicide attacks are in his plans despite the assurances of fellow General Isamu Cho that a huge counteroffensive will drive the Americans back to the beaches.

Jeff Shaara
Colonel Paul Tibbets is pilot of the Enola Gay (named after his own mother), the B-29 from which the first atomic bomb is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  This mission, along with a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, finally convinces the Japanese to end the war.  Jeff Shaara does not attempt to rewrite history to fit today’s more modern sensibilities.  Colonel Tibbets, and the men who make the decision to use the bomb, have few doubts about what they are about to do.  They see the super weapon as the best opportunity to end the war without the sacrifice of the several hundred thousand lives likely to be lost to any invasion of Japan by Allied forces.  They seize that opportunity.

The Final Storm is a moving and effective depiction of the final months of the War in the Pacific - exactly as it was experienced by some of the men who were there.  Shaara’s storytelling is, in fact, so effective that it is easy to forget that his main characters are all real people.  The book’s “Afterword” section, in which Shaara details what happened to his key characters following the war, might even be a bit jarring for some readers.

Rated at: 4.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Philip Roth vs. Carmen Callil (Victory, Roth)

I am happy to hear that Philip Roth has won the 2011 Man Booker International award and the cash prize that comes with it (something close to $100,000). The Man Booker International is awarded to an author for his fiction body of work and, with a full half-century of successful writing already under his belt, Roth’s work certainly can compete on equal footing with anyone writing today. I would have been happy for any of the others on the award short list - especially Anne Tyler - if they had won, but I believe that the judges were correct in choosing Roth for this honor.

Roth’s first book, the highly acclaimed Goodbye Columbus, was published in 1959, his most recent novel, Nemesis, 51 years later in 2010. All told, Roth has written some 31 novels and has won numerous prizes before this one, including the Pulitzer for 1998’s American Pastoral. I began reading Philip Roth around 1965 and I have been reading him regularly ever since. I have read close to 25 of the novels now, and strangely enough, the one I like the least is American Pastoral, one of the most highly acclaimed Roth novels of them all.

Also announced today is the vulgar display of poor sportsmanship of one of the award’s three judges, Carmen Callil, who actually had the gall to resign her position on the committee in protest of Mr. Roth’s win. Callil has written a column for the May 21 book section of the U.K.’s Guardian but that newspaper published some of her comments in today’s edition:
"I don't rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn't have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire – all the others were fine.” ... Emperor's clothes: in 20 years' time will anyone read him?"

"We should have discussed everything more, but Philip Roth came out like a thunderbolt, and I was too surprised. We took a couple of days to brood, and then I spoke to Justin and said I thought I should give in, if I didn't have to have anything to do with the winner. So I said I didn't want my name attached to it, and retired. You can't be asked to judge, and then not judge."
Note the last sentence, quoted above: “You can't be asked to judge, and then not judge."

Is that not exactly what this woman has done? She wants nothing “to do with the winner,” so she has, in effect, withdrawn her vote in a childish snit, cheapening the impact of the award while making herself look a fool in the process. Not only does Callil lack the ability to recognize an impressive body of work when she sees one, she also lacks the graciousness to keep her mouth shut when a vote does not go her way.

Mr. Roth is not the loser here.  It is Ms. Callil who has, I believe, damaged whatever reputation she might have earlier had.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tiny Terror

American Heritage Dictionary defines the term psychobiography as “a biography that analyzes the psychological makeup, character, or motivations of its subject.”  This approach to biography is generally more concerned with the why of a life than it is with the what.  As William Todd Schultz makes clear in Tiny Terror, author Truman Capote is a near perfect candidate for such a treatment.

As noted in the book’s subtitle, Schultz focuses on one specific question in regards to understanding Capote: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers.  Schultz wants to know what would motivate a man like Truman Capote to so viciously trash the group of high-society women he called his best friends.  These women, Capote’s “swans,” were the only real friends he seemed to have left late in his life, and that he would risk losing those friendships for the sake of a novel he never finished is difficult to understand.  Capote did take that risk and, as a result, he was ostracized and blackballed from the company of these women for the rest of his life, leaving him to die a broken man in the home of perhaps his last friend in the world, Johnny Carson’s ex-wife, Joanne.

Tiny Terror delves deeply into Capote’s dark Southern childhood in order to explain how he came to be the man he was.  His was a childhood of insecurities in which he felt abandoned by his parents and failed to form any real friendships other than with fellow author and childhood neighbor Harper Lee, (although their relationship is only lightly touched upon in the book).  According to Schultz’s theory, because of so much early insecurity, Capote grew into a neurotically supersensitive adult who always “expected to be hurt” in any emotional relationship he entered.  Sooner or later, he would be rejected. 

This was, however, only one side of the man’s personality.  Capote convinced himself that he was beyond caring what others thought of him, especially those whom he felt were using him simply as an oddity or amusement.  He was determined to strike first at those he sensed were laughing at him or taking him for granted.  Rather than allowing himself to be hurt, Capote defended himself with a nasty, pre-emptive strike in which he would take his revenge on others before they could hurt him more than they already had.

In the case of his “swans” and Answered Prayers, as Schultz puts it, “Capote died a sad, lonely death.  In some ways he scripted it.  He never expected to be loved; he expected to be dismissed, and he was in the end.  He made it happen…Even the swans flew off, to the sound of Capote’s buckshot.”

William Todd Schultz has written a remarkably insightful book that fans of Truman Capote’s work are sure to appreciate.  Even those who only knew or remember Capote as a fascinating late night guest on talk shows of that era are certain to see him in a new light - and wonder how they could have missed so much suffering on display as they laughed along with his television hosts.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Revisited Again)

As regards my previous post on the Anne Perry documentary, here are the thoughts of two writers who seem to know her story well.

The first is Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin who interviewed Perry regarding her involvement in the murder and the second is Peter Graham who was said to be working on a book about the murder when he made the comments I've quoted.

And from Peter Graham via Second Sight:
Perry refused to be involved in [Graham's] book, but wrote Graham a letter last year mentioning the murder, which she referred to as "the tragedy". 
"I thought this is a strange word to use when you've brained somebody to death and talk about it as 'a tragedy' as if somebody got run over by a train or something, " Graham says. 
"But then when you think about it -- and I think this also came through in the film -- when she talks about this ghastly thing, she's really just seeing it as a tragedy to her. She's entirely seeing it through her own eyes, she doesn't consider at all what a tragedy it was for poor old Mrs Parker or Mr Parker or the rest of the Parkers, it's all about her. 
"I think you do see that narcissism is still there. The mere fact that she wants to have this film crew in her house, following her around . . . is a rather sort of egotistical thing to do, and that was certainly what she was like as a child and as a teenager and she doesn't seem to have changed greatly." 
Graham says Perry's tearful explanation in the documentary for what she calls "the thing that happened" appears staged. 
"At the very end you get her breaking down in tears and talking about it, and really what she's saying is something that she's said before in numerous interviews: in effect 'it was all Pauline's fault, Pauline was suffering from bulimia and Pauline was threatening to kill herself and I honestly believed that if I didn't help her kill her mother then Pauline would kill herself and that would be on my conscience'."

(Now I am off to search for Mr. Graham's book.)

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Revisited)

I'm going to do something today that I have never done before on Book Chase; I'm reposting a blog entry, complete with all the comments it has received in the more than than three years that have gone by since it was first posted here.

Some of you will remember this post - some of you probably commented on it.

I'm reposting it today because, as you will see in the last comment I've copied, the company owning the rights to a 2010 Anne Perry documentary, in which Anne Perry does finally address her New Zealand murder conviction, has provided me with a link to the film at which it can be rented for online viewing. Unfortunately, the link is to a British website, complicating things a bit for U.S. viewers.  For that reason, I'm posting a clip from the movie placed on YouTube by the producers of the film that includes a way for U.S. viewers to rent the film for $1.99.  I haven't seen it yet, but I do intend to watch it at some point - it is listed as "unavailable" at NetFlix, by the way, so no joy via that source.

I'm posting the YouTube clip because of what it will add to the discussion, especially for those who have been bothered by Ms. Perry's reaction to her murder conviction.  Whether it changes anyone's feelings (in either direction), of course, remains to be seen.  If anyone has seen the film - or sees it before I get around to it - I would appreciate hearing what you think of it and whether or not it makes you feel any differently than you did before.

The YouTube clip:

(Please note that this post is open for new comments directly below the last of the copied comments.)

I've wondered for a long time if it's just me or if others feel the same way about reading murder mysteries by Anne Perry.  Does it bother you to contribute to the income of an author who makes her living as a murder mystery writer when she herself served five years in prison after being found guilty for her part in the brutal battering-to-death murder of her best friend's mother?

I realize that Perry, known then as Juliet Hulme, was only fifteen years old in 1954 when she helped her friend murder her mother, a crime requiring some 45 blows with a brick to the head, blows struck by both girls.  But that's hardly a child who doesn't know right from wrong.  Am I an exception to the rule because I get a queasy feeling every time I see an Anne Perry book on the shelves of my local bookstores?  I have to wonder how in the world she ever had the audacity to choose this line of work for herself, in fact.

There's no arguing with the fact that she's loaded with talent and has been a very successful writer over the years, but she's not for me.  Am I wrong for feeling this way and not being more forgiving of something that happened in her youth?

Comments to date:


Jill said...
It comes to mind when I read one of her books certainly, but I don't think that boycotting her work is necessarily the correct response.
Sam Houston said...
Jill, it's not at all that I want to boycott her work...or suggest that others do it...it's more that I can't read one of her novels without being distracted with nagging thoughts about her past. It ruins them for me despite the fact that I recognize her skills.
Wendy said...
I haven't read anything by Anne Perry, and I wasn't aware of her background...wow, it does give one pause, doesn't it? I would like to read more about this case...was she mentally ill at the time? What were the circumstances? It sounds like a brutal, brutal murder...and I have to wonder what she is like now. And as you note - why did she chose to write murder mysteries?!??! I also wonder whether or not the family of the victim has tried to block her success in any way.
Sam Houston said...
Wendy, the net is full of details. Just plug "Anne Perry murder" into Google and you'll get lots of details including articles from years ago, a Wikipedia article, and even one that came out in 1994 supposedly "outing" Anne Perry for the first time.
Wendy said...
Thanks, Sam - I spent some time browsing around. Found this articlewhich you might be interested in, which also talks about reader's feelings regarding this case and the fact that Perry writes murder mysteries. After reading a bit about the case, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is possible that being so young she became lost in the fantasy world she and Pauline created (I guess some people still think she was mentally ill at the time of the murder); on the other hand, I'm not so sure she should be making a living by writing about murder. According to Perry, she has repented and wishes to move forward. I couldn't find anything about the victim's family and how they might feel about all of this.
Sam Houston said...
That's an interesting link, Wendy. Thanks for that. I'm a little like the author of that blog article from 2003 in that the longer I really think about Perry's situation the more confused I get about my feelings. However, I'm probably old school enough, in the long run, to be ultimately unable to forget that an inncoent person died in 1954 several decades before her time. Those years were stolen from her and her family and I just can't easily push that from my mind long enough to get all the way through an Anne Perry novel anymore without thinking of it. But, as I said, too, I'm not suggesting any kind of boycott of the woman's work. I would guess that her "secret" is still largely a secret and that she will continue to do quite well until her own death. What brought this all to mind is that she is here in Houston this week at one of my favorite bookstores, "Murder by the Book" to sign her latest...this one a best seller, btw. I wonder what she thinks when she walks inside a bookshop with that name?
Wendy said...
Well, I'm pretty much where you are, Sam. I generally feel for the victim rather than the perpetrator...you're right, a person was bludgeoned to death years before she should have died; are we just to forget that so as not to disrupt the murderer's "new" and successful life? I might have felt more sympathetic to Perry had she not tried to hide her crime for so many years (didn't this just come out in 1994?). I don't believe in boycotts in general...but, I probably will not read this author's work now.
Sam Houston said...
The link to Anne Perry was just made public in 1994 amazingly enough. I actually enjoyed several of her books before 1994 and even after because I didn't find out about her past until probably the late nineties, myself. But, honestly, I haven't been able to read one all the way since despite having tried two or three times to read her recent work. I haven't really looked at the details of the case but I suspect that the victim was in her late thirties or early forties when she died, just based on the age of her daughter. That's way too young to have your life stolen from you (not that there's an age that would be acceptable, of course).
J. Anne said...
Wow, I had no idea. You'd at least think she could write sci-fi or general fiction or something. There's a certain uncomfortableness wondering if she's so good at writing about murder simply because she's good at murder. I hope she at least has the decency to never write about a woman bludgeoned to death. Slighty off-topic here, but how on earth does anyone get off in 5 years for that kind of brutal, premeditated murder?
Bybee said...
There's also a movie "Heavenly Creatures"...Kate Winslet plays Hulme. The movie seems to suggest that Hulme and the other girl were so deep in a la-la fantasy world (very interestingly depicted in the movie) that the cheese had slipped off their crackers. I haven't read any Anne Perry books (don't like mysteries) but it comes to mind when I see her books. A mystery writer I know named Eve K. Sandstrom once remarked that she and Perry were part of a mystery writer's convention once that was a complete cluster----, and that Perry bore all the mishaps and silly mistakes with humor and grace when the other writers had lost their tempers and were ready to do bodily harm. "She's definitely 100% rehabilitated," Sandstrom said. Sorry for the extra-long comment!
Wendy said...
j. anne: I believe part of that was because they were only 15 when they committed the crime. But, I agree - five years seems ridiculous. Bybee: Apparently (from what I've read on a google search) Perry disputes that take on the murders (which was portrayed in the movie). She claims her friend was suicidal and she thought if she (Perry) didn't assist with the murder, her friend would have killed herself. Sounds a bit convoluted to me!
Lisa said...
Wow, I had no idea about Perry's background. Don't really want to pass judgment one way or the other, but I'm a little mystified as to why she would choose to write murder mysteries. If you want to be a writer, there's an unlimited number of directions in which to go.
Sam Houston said...
Annie, I see that Wendy has pointed out that she was only 15 when the crime took place. I have no idea what New Zealand's laws are like regarding murder by a juvenile, but I'm betting she did not real hard time at all.
Sam Houston said...
That's an interesting story, Bybee...I always enjoy "long" comments, so thanks. :-) I haven't seen the movie, but I'm going to have to see if I can find a copy. I vaguely remember hearing about it when it was first released but lost track of it pretty quickly.
Sam Houston said...
Wow, Wendy...killing your friend's mother to put her in a better mood so that she doesn't commit suicide? If that was her defense, I can't believe she got off so lightly. I suppose that's why this crime and Perry's success as a crime writer does strike me as a weirdly ironic combination.
Sam Houston said...
You're right, Lisa...why crime novels? She is a talented writer and I have to believe she had other viable options. Is this a case of writing what you know?
jenclair said...
I remember hearing the connection on an NPR report one morning before work when the connection was first made. I was stunned as I was quite fond of her series with Charlotte and Pitt and Hester and Monk. Eventually saw the movie with Kate Winslet. The knowledge has not prevented me from reading her novels, but the thoughts about her background always surface.
class factotum said...
I loved her books until I learned about what happened. I would absolutely not pay for one of her books and I have stopped reading them because they have become so formula.
Sam Houston said...
Was it the crime, factotum, that put you off her work or the predictability of her later work?
Sibylle said...
I read one of her books a while ago but mysteries are not my thing at all (I don't even like Agatha Christie), however, I was shocked when I saw the movie Heavenly Creatures and discovered she was in fact Juliet Hulme. I would feel really ill at ease buying any book by her. I'm so glad you feel the same, when I explained that to a friend who's an avid reader she couldn't care less. I can totally separate a person from her work but it's just that she's writing today, I mean, there are probably a lot of people who knew Pauline's mother and are still alive today. It's such dark humour that she's writing mysteries.
Sam Houston said...
Sibylle, people seem to react very differently to the news that "Anne Perry" is a convicted murderer. Some, like me and you, have a hard time reading her because we just can't appreciate the irony of her career choice and others seem to enjoy her more because of the black "humor" involved. We are a strange breed sometimes...
heather (errantdreams) said...
'Heavenly Creatures' is, in fact, a fascinating take on the events, and worth watching if you haven't seen it before. I don't know how I feel about the whole thing---largely because I don't know the woman, haven't seen any interviews with her, etc. It would, for me, depend entirely on what kind of person she is now. I do believe that people can change enough that she could become someone I wouldn't mind contributing to the royalty checks of. But really, without knowing a lot more about who she is today... I guess I wouldn't go out of my way to either buy or avoid her books without knowing one way or the other.
Dewey said...
As much as we all want to understand what would make someone do such a horrific thing, it happened in 1954 and there is realistically no way that we can ever understand what happened. Maybe she was mentally ill. Maybe the friend was suicidal. We can't really believe what we see in some movie or even what Perry says now, because it was so long ago that the realities of the event have probably been rewritten even in her own mind by now. People do tend to rationalize their behavior. Think about your own family's mythology and how something that happened decades ago gets changed over time. The first thing that jumped to mind for me was that perhaps this mother was abusive. I've read that most of the women in prison committed violence against people who were abusing them. Whether that's technically true or not, being abused might make the cheese slip of that girl's cracker, as someone put it. Why Perry helped, if that was the case, though, is still in question. Any way, as I said, it's all speculation at this point. Having said that, though, I have read some of her books, without ever having known about this, but they weren't very good and I probably wouldn't want to read any more even if this wasn't so unsettling as to be inevitably distracting.
Sam Houston said...
I can understand what you're staying, Heather, and I think that's a common reaction...and maybe the best one. I tried that approach for a while but the "creepiness factor" finally got the best of me.
Sam Houston said...
Dewey, the thing about the crime that bothers me most is the way that Perry chipped in to help her friend in such a brutal fashion. As you say, we never know what goes on in the homes of others and I would tend to, at least at first, give the benefit of the doubt to the daughter. But Perry was just a friend...making me wonder what their relationship was like and which was the driver in this murder, etc. You're points are well taken...thanks.
Anonymous said...
The point no-one has made is that she did her time. She has paid her debt as determined by the court that tried her, and she has a perfect right to have a new life doing whatever she wants. She also had a right to anonymity, and it's only because a journalist exposed her that you know this about her at all.
Sam Houston said...
What you say is true, anonymous. However, it changes nothing about the horrific nature of the crime she committed nor the very weird choice of occupations she chose for herself. She is, after all, a convicted murderer and why you think that she deserves anonymity completely escapes me. As far as I am concerned, she deserves anonymity no more than her victim deserved being beaten to death. Sorry.
Wendy said...
I agree, Sam - actually no convicted felon "deserves anonymity." Would anonymous feel the same way about a convicted sex offender who moved in next door and then went on to victimize another child? No - most people want to know if there are convicted felons walking around. Yup, Anne Perry did her time...but that doesn't negate the savagery of her crime; nor does it mean that no one gets to judge that criminal behavior.
Sam Houston said...
I agree with that, Wendy. What she did is part of who she is and if it bothers her to have it known to the public that seems like part of the punishment she deserves for what she did. Let's face it, she didn't pay much of a price otherwise, really.
Anonymous said...
I grew up in the city where Anne Perry (then Juliette Hume)and her friend Pauline Parker murdered Parker's mother. I was around 12 years old at the time and the event left an indelible mark in my mind. But I view Anne's subsequent success as a crime fiction writer as a redemption story (albeit an ironical one)and would wish her naught but all the very best. Had she been a year or so older she'd have hanged for her crime (New Zealand stilll had the death penalty then). In later years, I got to know one of the lawyers who prosecuted her and Parker to conviction. He's dead now, but my feeling is that he would have fully shared my view. You don't have to read her books if it makes you uncomfortable to do so but, after 50 years and more, how about a bit of forgiveness instead of dollops of distasteful 'damn her forever' thinking?
Sam Houston said...
Anonymous, your points are well taken and I appreciate your input. I don't agree with you that wondering if she should be forgiven is "distasteful," however. If she truly feels remorse for what she's done, that's one thing...but trying to hide from the crime is another and that does make her books a bit uncomfortable for me to read. It's much the same when I see an old movie in which O.J. Simpson has a role. I can't watch them anymore because I cannot forget what the man has done...regardless of the prejudiced jury that freed him to become the criminal he is today.
Anonymous said...
I know this is an old post but had to chip in. I've only just discovered that she is the one of the murderers heavenly creatures was based on - she was apparently the driving force behind it all as she was the more educated, articulate and forceful one. Personally, there is no way I would buy or read her books now. I find it distasteful and very strange that she then went on to write murder mysteries, some of them are quite vivid and brutal, it makes me wonder if she is living out her murder fantasies on paper now. Feel like asking for my money back from the publishers now!
Sam Sattler said...
Those are interesting points, Anonymous. I still cannot read the woman's fiction and I doubt that I ever will read her again. If she is as remorseful as some seem to think, she needs to tell her story in a nonfiction book instead of trying to hide from what she did as a young adult.
Terry C, NJ said...
Like everything else, if you don't feel comfortable reading her books, don't buy them and don't read them. That's all you can do. Ms. Perry doesn't want to "tell her story." It happened over 50 years ago. It's not going to bring Honora Parker back. If she doesn't want to talk about it, that's her right.
Sam Sattler said...
Terry, that's pretty much the approach I've taken. I don't read her anymore and I find that I don't miss her writing at all because it never appealed to me all that much anyway. Her mysteries were not the type I enjoy, honestly. Of course, as you say, it is her right not to tell her story of what happened all those years ago. But it is also our right to wonder what drove her and whether or not she is actually remorseful - or got off lightly. Frankly, anyone who could do something so brutal, even at her age, has something very wrong with them. I brought this up only because I was curious about what others think of her books, etc. I was surprised that her background was new to a good number of people. Thanks for your comments.
Ann4mation said...
I realize I'm coming very late to this discussion, but had to say that I feel very differently from most of the commenters. Like many of you, I read several Ann Perry novels without any idea that she was Juliet Hulme, portrayed in a movie that I had seen years ago called Heavenly Creatures. I only read a few of her crime series, which I remember as being good, but not enough to my taste to keep me compulsively grabbing up one after another as I've done with, say, Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, or Perry's interviewer in the video I've just been watching, the fantastic Ian Rankin. I find it hard to believe that so many people question the fact that she hasn't advertised her past, and characterize it as "trying to hide it, keep it a secret." Wow -- I imagine that if that was part of my past, it would be hard to set foot outside my own home if I thought that everyone knew about it all the time. Not only would I be paranoid that everyone was staring at me and whispering, it would be TRUE! In any case, as a writer, if she wrote under her original name, people would no doubt buy the books because of her dark history, whether or not the books were good, so I can absolutely understand changing her name so that her writing could be judged and read on its own merit. The bottom line on this question for me is that I completely understand her desire to put this murder and conviction behind her and am amazed that anyone would characterize this "hiding it" and "keeping it secret" as anything other than a natural, instinctive survival mechanism. If any of YOU had committed a murder and done time for it as a teenager, I cannot believe that you would want it to be public knowledge. You would NOT announce it periodically to make sure it was remembered -- instead, you would be relieved when it was forgotten by the public, and most likely you would try to live a good life forever after, doing penance and atonement whenever and wherever you could. As someone else said, she was lucky not to get the death penalty -- she did her time, did what was asked of her. What more would you have her do? The other thing is that it seems that many of you would demand that she not write murder mysteries if you could command it. You think that it's in poor taste and will not read her books now, knowing her history. But perhaps, as I think someone else hinted, this IS part of her penance. It seems to show that she hasn't been able to escape her past -- that in this way, it is on her mind all the time, every day, and it has colored her whole life, even shaped her career, making it the subject of her life's work. Maybe in writing about crimes being discovered and punished -- murderers not being able to get away with their crimes -- she is replaying the moral scenario over and over again in her books. As far as anyone knows, Ann Perry/Juliet Hulme lives an honest and good life now, is a model citizen, a good person, and does no harm to anyone. As such, why must she be boycotted, or told to write something else? She probably has more guilt, regret and self-torment in her little finger than the rest of us can begin to imagine in all of our experience, and she lives with this every day. Maybe she was insane, maybe she IS insane, but regardless, she deserves forgiveness and compassion as much as anyone else living in this world. Ann Perry isn't a monster -- she's just a person trying to make a living doing what she can do with the talent that she has, and maybe she's paying the pennance with her art. Judge not, etc. Apologies for such a lengthy diatribe, but I had so many responses to what I read here...
Sam Sattler said...
Ann4mation, thanks for your detailed comments. I appreciate you taking that much time to respond and believe your points to be valid ones. My only point in doing this piece was to explain my reaction to Perry's murder mysteries and to ask if others felt the same way. I was a bit surprised that a significant number of people did not know the connection to her criminal past. To this day, I cannot pick up one of those novels without thinking about the crime. Perhaps that's a personal failing of mine but I have been unable to get past it. I admit to having grown a bit tired of Perry's style even before I became aware of who she is, something that might contribute to my willingness to pass by her work. Again, thanks for joining the conversation.
Anonymous said...
Just saw the extremely disturbing movie, Heavenly Creatures, did a bit of research, and came here. I have read Anne Perry's work, but I had no idea... The sheer audacity and arrogance of this woman surprises me. If you murder someone as a child, feel guilty and repentant about it later, would you make a living selling murder to the public? I can distinctly hear her laughing at the world. I killed someone, then I wrote about it and became famous - what a joke on the world! From the movie, I see one extenuating circumstance; the fact that the two girls (things?) had a disturbed childhood. But apparently Anne Perry was not too disturbed to become a famous murder writer. She took a life. Callously. If she had become a recluse, repentant, grieving for her crime, I could understand. If she had become that for even a short period of time, and then moved on, I could still understand. But apparently the murder never touched her life. Thats the callousness that disturbs me the most.
Melina said...
See, with the murder thing, I just feel like both girls felt threatened by the fact that they wouldnt be near each other. Were their actions appropriate? No, of course not. But how would you feel if someone tried to take away the one thing you loved? And some people never gain that one person, but those girls loved each other for them. People like to look at it like theyre lesbians but no, the simple fact was that they were enamored by each other and they wanted to devour every second with each other. I dont think this means you should disregard her works. She is a different person now. She knows what she has done and to this day refuses to discuss the matter and is that not a sign of guilt? Or shame? Experience shapes a writer. Writers take what their world offers them and can disguise it and other countless things.
Sam Sattler said...
Anonymous, as I said earlier, the thing that gets me is that these two women were not children when they committed the murder. They knew right from wrong and they made the decision to kill a woman in a very brutal and slow manner. I would respect Perry if she were to address the past in a direct way rather than, in effect, refuse to admit it ever happened to her. But that's just me.
Sam Sattler said...
Those are interesting points, Melina, but it reminds me again of how old the girls were when they killed. I don't know Perry's reasons for remaining silent all these years...maybe to sell as many books as possible?
Anonymous said...
I know this is an old thread, but feel like commenting. I'm supposed to read one of Perry's novels for my bookclub, but I agree with many of the comments here that it is difficult to read her work without constantly wondering about her own thoughts and memories of her crime. I also agree that there is something distinctly and unsettlingly odd about Hulme's choice of career. For anyone interested, there is an interview by someone named Rankin with her on YouTube that I found disturbing. She seems to me like a very plausible sociopath, one who prefers to call herself an "accessory" to the murder and who says "it simply doesn't exist for me now." I cannot imagine a normal human, even after decades, saying that about taking a life. Maybe if I had something that heinous to forget I would understand her better. Either she is not normal, or she is covering up her guilt and suffering with this mask.
Molly said...
Can not believe that after all these years, reading Anne Perry novels; mystery, WWI, Christmas novels, that I have discovered that her past life was a worse crime then any depicted in her novels. Talk about being under a rock all of these years! Had I known, I would have missed a lot of Victorian history. I have enjoyed all but a few of Anne's work. Some were just too graphic. What am I to do now that I know about her past? I don't have a clue. For some reason, I did not look at her "bio", just went by what was on the book cover..."Born in England, now living in Scotland." I recently viewed the movie "Heavenly Creatures". I agree with some comments on this blog; Anne, tell your story. The woman the girls killed seemed like a nice lady, she was hard working and wanted what was right for her daughter.
Sam Sattler said...
Molly, I've only seen parts of the movie, myself, and that was from YouTube clips but what I saw was somewhat disturbing. That, combined with the interview an anonymous poster mentioned in the comment just above yours reinforces my initial reaction to this whole thing. I suppose it's a good thing that "Perry" can move on the way she has but I don't find that normal...or right.
journeymanvod said...
You can watch Anne Perry's side of the story on VOD here: http://vod.journeyman.tv/store?p=3858&s=Anne+Perry+Interiors