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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Classic BMW 5-Series M Car by Robert P. Hall

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 33


Here’s my book review of The Classic BMW 5-Series M Car by Robert P. Hall.

Okay, you couch potatoes! Let’s get out of the house and forget about literature. Here’s a book about the thrills of owning a classic car. The BMW 5 series are four-door sedans. They look like no-nonsense family cars. But a special group of these, which the factory calls the M CarsM for Motorsport – have hidden performance features that rival the best sports cars in the world.

Hall describes three different M Car models, the E28, the E34, and the E39. He points out differences in the engines, drivetrains, and handling characteristics. Also the dashboards and the interior appointments. The book has a great glossary, so you don’t have to be a car buff to get what he’s saying.

Lifelong car enthusiast Hall claims that you can buy one of these 5-series M cars used and have it reconditioned – all for about the price of a new mid-sized family sedan. But what you will get is a driving experience comparable to a Porsche or a Ferrari – sports cars costing two or three times as much.

Hall suggests that taking this leap can transform you from a mild-mannered Clark Kent into a self-confident master of the universe. (The same holds for Clarissa Kent, by the way.) In short, if you want to feel what it’s like to be rich, drive one of these cars – and in no time you’ll feel you deserve the very best in life. All for no more than you would have spent on your next Chevy or Toyota.

This is the essence of what the author calls “The Cool Lifestyle,” choices you can make in the material world that give you access to feelings of self-fulfillment and personal empowerment.

Wow, something to think about the next time a BMW cuts you off on the freeway.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Catch these podcasts at boychiklit.com.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 32


Here’s my book review of The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.

This novel is no less than an attempt to trace the origins of anti-Semitism in Europe over the last two centuries. Author Umberto Eco’s story is a partially true but barely believable plot behind the multiple versions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a racist tract that inspired Naziism. Eco's account is narrated by the one character he admits to being fictional, Simonini, a master forger who made a living not only creating official documents but also fabricating the facts and stories they contained. The plot suggests that this man was hired to create the The Protocols as a deliberate hoax to incite hatred and build a political power base.

Eco has been a lifetime student of occultist movements and secret societies, including the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, and various anti-clerical, anti-Papist, anti-royalist, anarchist, and, yes, anti-Semitic political and religious groups, including their agent provocateurs.

Behind this story is a general conclusion about the nature of conspiracy. In this web of loosely woven plots, conspiracy is not a masterfully directed and highly coordinated effort. It is, instead, a monstrous disease that has no direction other than its own propagation. It has no head and no permanently governing body. Spanning generations, it goes wherever it feeds best, and it serves whomever will feed and sustain it. It likewise destroys, not a specific enemy, but any person, group, or ideology the persecution of which will benefit, even for the short term, the feeders of conspiracy.

In short, it has been convenient for various groups at various times to promote hatred of marginalized social groups. But as Eco demonstrates, this agenda has  much more to do with consolidating power than with persecuting or exterminating the  victims.

Ultimately, it's about political expediency and rousing the emotions of the masses – not to destroy an enemy but to enrich their persecutors.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Catch these podcasts at boychiklit.com.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 31


Here’s my book review of The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.

The protagonist of this novel is Chaz Wilmot, an accomplished fine arts painter. He’s a brilliant technician but insecure about his creativity. His insecurity is rooted in the emotional abuse he received from his father, who was also a famous painter and intensely jealous of his son.

Wilmot is also pretty much a failure at his personal relationships. He’s divorced two wives, and he’s not a particularly attentive father to his children. Then, a bizarre thing happens. Chaz volunteers as a patient in a pharmaceutical research study. He’s given a psychoactive drug that induces hallucinations. But in Chaz, the effect is unique and disturbing – he seems to bi-locate physically as well as mentally into another person’s body at another time in history. He finds himself living in Madrid in the 1650s having assumed the identity of Diego Velázquez, one of the most supremely gifted painters who ever lived.

In this past life, Chaz learns all of Velázquez’s techniques, one brushstroke at a time. Back in the present day, international criminals discover his talent and blackmail him into forging a Velasquez painting that has been missing for centuries.

I find two things remarkable about this book. First, perhaps because Gruber is married to a painter, his descriptions of painterly technique are vivid and detailed. It’s a short course in classical painting. Painters especially revere Velázquez’s Las Meninas (the Maids of Honor), which shows a little princess surrounded by her servants in the Spanish court. Pablo Picasso was so obsessed that he painted 58 versions of it. There are other renditions by renowned artists such as Dali, Degas, Goya, Sargent, and Whistler.

Also remarkable is the theme of altered mental states. As Chaz shuttles back and forth between the centuries, he begins to wonder – what is reality? What is personal identity? How can you be so sure you are the person you think you are?

And – what difference would it make if your favorite painting by an old master were just a masterful fake?

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My forthcoming novel about an art scandal in 1890s Paris is Bonfire of the Vanderbilts. Be sure to catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

Bonfire of the Vanderbilts - Preview

The Baptism by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, Paris 1892 (LACMA)


Author Gerald Everett Jones reads from his forthcoming novel Bonfire of the Vanderbilts at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Prime Rib & Boxcars: Whatever Happened to Victoria Station? by Tom Blake

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 30


Here’s my book review of Prime Rib & Boxcars: Whatever Happened to Victoria Station? by Tom Blake.

Some of you may know Tom Blake as a SoCal newspaper columnist, and others will recognize him as the owner of Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point. Prime Rib & Boxcars is his personal memoir about another career with Victoria Station Restaurants, which in just eight years grew from a couple of stores to a nationwide chain with $100 million in sales.

It was the 1970s. Remember these restaurants built in renovated train cars? There was one at the top of the hill at Universal City.

This book has two distinct parts – in the beginning, it’s all about Tom Blake the restaurant manager, who started in the bar and worked his way to managing multiple sites, including training staff. The second part shows us Tom Blake, marketing executive, who describes the high life in the top management suite.

Blake the restauranteur tells about the 1970s like it was yesterday – but, oh, how times have changed. Life in the biz was fast-paced and fun – back when binge drinking, hard partying, and skirt chasing were not politically incorrect and more or less legal. Think Mad Men at the steakhouse – red meat and whiskey.

Then as Blake gets promoted into the executive suite, it’s Mad Men literally on a different level at headquarters in downtown San Francisco. And here the lessons learned are more suited to MBAs. It’s a story of literally failing upward. The chain grew faster than its ability to train staff and maintain quality. The executives turned their attention from satisfying customers to feeding Wall Street investment analysts. The goal became to open 25 new stores per year, and after they had 70 locations, it all imploded.

A touching personal subplot is Blake’s friendship with Johnny Cash, who sang the chain’s theme song. And in those latter days as things began to unwind, management turned their backs on Johnny abruptly – without consulting Blake. Apparently the Wall Street types thought the image of the Country-and-Western star was too low-class for their new upscale demographic.

Prime Rib & Boxcars – one more example of the adage, “Nothing fails like success!”

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My humorous novel about capitalism gone haywire is Mr. Ballpoint. And you can catch these podcasts on BoychikLit.com.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Voice Will Go with You (Revisited)

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 29


This is Gerald Everett Jones, author of Mr. Ballpoint. My Boychik Lit book reviews air on The Mark Isler Show on Saturday nights (KRLA 870 AM Los Angeles). You may also know that these brief reviews are available as podcasts from BoychikLit.com, iTunes, and Feedburner. Now that I’ve done almost thirty reviews, I looked back to see which have been the most popular. The fifth most popular podcast, in terms of streaming plays and downloads, was Griftopia by Matt Taibbi. The fourth was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, followed by Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate by William Albracht and Marvin Wolf. But the top podcast, getting almost twice as many plays as any of the others, is a nonfiction book you probably never heard of.

Psychiatrist Milton Erickson is regarded as the father of neurolinguistic programming, or NLP. This book is a collection of very short stories he told clients who were in a trance state as a means of reprogramming their thinking about a problem they brought to him. Erickson believed that stories heard and then forgotten have the most power over future actions. That's because, once the conscious, censoring mind has ceased analyzing the experience, the persistent memory of the story can percolate in the unconscious. The book illustrates vividly the power of a story to transform thinking and behavior--immediately. The accompanying commentary by author Sidney Rosen tells why each story is effective in changing behavior.

My Voice Will Go with You. I sincerely hope it does.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Musicianship

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 28


The topic of this week’s book review is musicianship.

Musicianship is a common theme of three different stories. The first is An Equal Music, a novel by Vikram Seth about a European string quartet. Another about chamber musicians in New York is the movie A Late Quartet. The third, and most unusual, is The Bear Comes Home, a novel by Rafi Zabor.

Musicianship is the first thing you notice about any band. Do you hear individual instruments and voices or a mellow blend? Inexperienced amateurs are too concerned with projecting their personal sound. Professionals know that listening to each other is a measure of not only artistry, but also of generosity.

In An Equal Music, a violinist who plays in a chamber quartet carries on a love affair with an accomplished pianist. The main issue with them is mutual trust, which is also the crucial element that binds a successful quartet. However, one of them has been slowly growing deaf and is hiding it from the other. As we learn, a relationship can work, for a while, even if it is not based on truth, but on a willingness to agree.

In A Late Quartet, the second violinist and the violist are married to each other. The violinist is having doubts about his playing, which leads a brief affair with a dancer. The arrogant first violinist is giving music lessons to his colleagues’ talented daughter. He betrays his bond to them by allowing the girl to seduce him. Again, it’s all about trust and cooperation, sometimes in spite of the underlying truth.

In The Bear Comes Home, the bear in the title is an alto sax player who is crazy about jazz, girls, and Shakespeare. He’s not a bearlike man, he’s a furry animal. And, he’s beset by the blues. Oddly, he blames his difficulties getting along with his human musician friends on everything except his essential bearishness. His situation reminds us how immigrants must feel, knowing they’re so much like the rest of us, while we can only see their differences.

Musicianship – it’s about collaboration, and what it takes for all us kids to play nice. Not just in music, but in personal relationships and even in international negotiations.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Be sure to catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.