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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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Invisible by Paul Auster

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 28

Here’s my book review of Invisible by Paul Auster.

First off, there are many books with the title Invisible. Make sure you get the right one. Paul Auster writes fascinating literary novels, which are often baffling. This book presents three interwoven versions of the same story as told by three different narrators.

Main character Adam Walker is a young poet in New York. Soon after graduation he meets a worldly couple at a party – Frenchman Rudolph Born and his mistress Margot. Born is an international man of mystery, an unscrupulous character who may be con-man or spy or both. Margot is a seductress. Born helps Walker hook up with Margot, and the first plot complication is a love triangle.

Born pulls Walker into a publishing venture, and then – out of the blue – he murders a man in front of him on the street. He intimidates Walker into helping him cover it up.

Walker is now carrying a burden of guilt that will haunt him forever. When he thinks Born and Margot are out of his life, Walker has a love affair with his own sister. More guilt.

Walker tries to make sense of it all by writing an autobiographical novel. When circumstances prevent him from completing it, he challenges his friend Jim, who is also a writer, to finish the story. Jim then narrates the next part of the book, describing what he’s been able to discover about Walker’s past.

In a third narrative, a French woman named Cécile narrates. She was a minor character earlier in the story, but now she’s center stage. She met Walker by way of Born. She was in love with Walker and tormented by Born. Near the end of the book, she meets up with Born, and he tries to pull her into yet another of his traps.

The book ends on a final scene which seems to have no connection to Walker’s story. Like his protagonist Walker, Auster is a poet. It’s up to the reader to find meaning in this concluding image. This plot is complex and not easily understood. But Invisible isn’t a pulp-fiction whodunit. In the end, you probably don’t have all the facts, and the facts you do have, may not even be true.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of the humorous novel Mr. Ballpoint. And you can catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 27


Here’s my book review of Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe.

In his novel Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe savages urban American morality, or lack thereof, by focusing on the melting pot of Miami. In this city there are more recent immigrants than anywhere else. The races cohabit and wheel and deal, but they mix hardly at all. As one of his characters quips, everybody hates everybody.

Wolfe's main character here is Nestor Camacho, a roguish cop of Cuban ancestry who, like so many of his neighbors in Hialeah, barely speaks a word of Spanish. In many ways, Camacho is a hero, often in spite of himself. His good heart and fierce sense of duty carry him into dangerous situations, intrigues, and trouble with his superiors. The driving force of a subplot about a colossal art forgery is preppie newspaperman John Smith, who is also a rogue, and also prone to find all kinds of trouble, much of it newsworthy. And most of the truths he uncovers are inconvenient both for his media bosses and for the mob-style rulers of the social order.

This book shows a lot of skin, as they say. Situations are weird or gross, or both. Wolfe reveals himself to be a dirty old man with a massive vocabulary who will titillate you until you have way too much information. We are self-seeking animals, he seems to say, and most of our decisions and actions are motivated by our most basic desires.

Tom Wolfe's literary predecessor could well be the nineteenth-century French satirist Honoré de Balzac, who was so alike in his low opinion of human nature and exploitation of its foibles. At heart, Wolfe is a curmudgeonly moralist. Society, he seems to be saying, still needs cops and journalists, who can occasionally be heroes, if they dare to break the rules.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com. More than 30 of these book reviews and author readings are available for download or streaming (for free) from iTunes or Feedburner.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Belief in Angels by J. Dylan Yates

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 26


Here’s my book review of The Belief in Angels by J. Dylan Yates.

In this novel there are two entwined stories about coping with survivor's guilt. Teenage Jules (her birthname was Julianne) and her grandfather Sam (given name, Szaja) have come through personal ordeals, she with a brilliant but an irresponsible and abusive mother, and he through the genocidal persecutions of eastern Europe in World War II. The cruelties visited on him were more overt and violent, but the psychological terror Jules must endure is just as real and emotionally damaging. Yates artfully shapes this book through meticulous detail crafted from the often mundane daily lives of these characters, along with their troubled and introspective thought processes.

Ultimately, it's a story about finding value and making meaning where there seems to be none. There are no redeeming visitations from angels, but in Jules, as in Sam, we get a glimpse of the higher self, the wise consciousness, that prevails in the human psyche.

So, The Belief in Angels may actually encourage your faith in people.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My humorous novel Christmas Karma is narrated by an angel who has a weird sense of humor. As the angel observes, the quickest way to invoke the laughter of the universe is to make plans – particularly devious ones. Be sure to catch these podcasts on BoychikLit.com.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 25


Here’s my book review of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

Retired British Army officer Major Ernest Pettigrew is a modest man with domestic tastes. Since his dear wife died, he’d like nothing better than to shut himself up in their cottage in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary and expire quietly while sipping tea. Not surprisingly, his main problem is not so much grief as loneliness. But his quietude is suddenly disturbed by other worries. His brother Bertie dies, and he must both console the widow and supervise the wake. The event brings an extended visit from Pettigrew’s son Roger, an overachieving wiz of London finance, who attends the funeral with his social-climbing fiancé.

Although Pettigrew must now take on another load of grief, his immediate challenge is the covetousness of family members. Bertie’s widow Marjorie remembers that the brothers inherited a matched pair of antique shotguns. Pettigrew has cared for one of them meticulously, knows how to use it, and Bertie had the other and allowed it to tarnish on a shelf. Marjorie wants the guns sold as a pair at auction. Pettigrew had expected he’d have custody of both guns as family heirlooms. Another claimant on Pettigrew’s worldly goods is son Roger, who expects his father to move into more modest digs and gift him the cottage. Pettigrew fears that either Jemima will gut the place and redecorate garishly, or the couple will turn around the flip the property and pocket a tidy profit. Both the guns and the house represent cherished traditions that no one but Pettigrew intends to honor.
In all this strife, Pettigrew has a growing friendship with and fondness for a widow, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, proprietress of the village shop. They are both shy people, and they court as awkwardly as a pair of pre-teens. Given her Pakistani heritage and Pettigrew’s stuffy pedigree, their love affair is one more indication that longstanding traditions don’t mean so much anymore.

You’ll come to love this crusty and affable fellow, and you may identify with his valiant attempts to maintain his pride and his values he begins to face the challenges of old age.

Toward the end of the book, author Simonson has inserted an episode of violence. In my view, it’s not organic to the plot. It’s as though her agent or editor told her to raise the stakes. Authors, please resist the temptation to smear icing on your freshly baked pound cake, and don’t put both lemon and milk in your tea! Some things are simply not done.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. You may also enjoy my humorous novel Mr. Ballpoint, about a man who said, if you want to do the impossible, you have to do it right away. And be sure to catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

Postscript  Producers Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan of the Mazur / Kaplan Company have partnered with Kevin McCormick of Langley Park Pictures to do the movie version and hired screenwriter Jack Thorne (Skins) to adapt the novel. So Simonson’s adding that nasty plot point may have been just the right choice – at least, commercially. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Major’s adventures become a franchise for a spinoff TV series. However, in my humble view, making him a detective would be an unimaginative and all-too familiar choice, especially if, as I further predict, it gets picked up by the BBC.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 24

Here’s my book review of Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.
British novelist Nick Hornby is best known for his books that have been adapted as movies and television series, including High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down. Many of his humorous novels fall into the genre they call in the UK “lad lit,” and I’ve called boychik lit, about young men on the make. Funny Girl is a departure. It’s about a young woman who is less concerned about men than becoming a comedienne on TV. Her role model is Lucille Ball and after her arrival in London from the sticks she takes the stage name Sophie Straw – Sophie for sophisticated and straw for brassy blonde.
Sophie fails rapidly upward and is soon the star of a new BBC sitcom. It’s the 1960s – in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution. Yes, Funny Girl is about Sophie’s personal relationships and those of her mostly male colleagues. But it’s mostly about how hard it is to generate comedy, week after week. Funny Girl is sharply witty, and not so much funny as touching.
The writers, Tony and Bill, fret continually about what’s funny. And their gags run the gamut from potty humor to mature marital spats.
So, Funny Girl is not lad lit at all. And it’s not so much funny as witty, which shows up in the catty dialogue as Sophie and the guys argue over script notes, social gaffes, and their personal heartaches.
Nick Hornby describes his writing process this way: “I write in horrible little two-and-three sentence bursts, with five-minute breaks in between. It’s all pretty grim! And so dull!”
It’s routine, all right. The best writing advice I ever got was to get into a chair every day. But clearly Hornby is doing a good job of entertaining himself and us. I suspect that’s why he keeps going  back to his chair.
For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My series of boychik lit books is the Misadventures of Rollo Hemphill, and the most recent installment is titled, Farnsworth’s Revenge. Young men may identify, mature men will remember, and women of any age will delight in seeing poor Rollo go splat. Don’t forget to catch these podcasts at Boychiklit.com.