Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Stuart Appleton IS Rollo Hemphill

Stuart Appleton narrates the audiobook, which is available now from Amazon Audible and iTunes Store.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

[no podcast this week]

Here’s my book review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
I don’t often review recent releases. But there was such a buzz about The Girl on the Train, I couldn’t help myself. Especially since, after I’d downloaded the ebook sample, that Buy Now button was burning a hole in my digital wallet.
(The book has been out for months, so maybe, given the nanosecond pace of social media, it’s a classic by now?)
Yes, I was engrossed. But before you rush out to the e-store, be warned.
Right off, this is a book for and about women. The two male main characters – both thirty-something husbands – are strapping hunks of man-flesh. They exude charm and flash winning smiles. And they are both abusers. Several walk-on male characters are nicer, sort of metrosexual candidates. But one has a drug habit, another is a drunk, and the third is a spineless shrink.
The wives and ex-wives are smart but vulnerable, emotional sponges thirsty for guy-sweat. They spend a lot of their emotional energy in cat-fights with each other.
Okay, here’s the gist of it. The Girl on the Train is a chilling psychological drama centered – not on a love triangle, but a pentagon – or is it a hexagon? Anyway, the permutations and combinations don’t quite include the entire neighborhood.
Main character Rachel is recently divorced from Tom, who seems like a nice guy who just couldn’t put up with her drinking habit. (She had her reasons.) He’s now married to Anna and they have a new baby. The couple live in a the same bungalow where Tom and Rachel once thought they were happy. A few doors down, Scott and Megan seem like childless lovebirds. Megan occasionally babysits for Anna.
Although it’s been a while since the breakup, Rachel can’t help spying on her old house from the commuter train she takes to work in London every day. She occasionally catches sight of Megan and Scott lounging on the porch of their cookie-cutter cottage. She doesn’t know them well, but she develops a fantasy about their perfect relationship. It’s the relationship Rachel thought she had with Tom, a love now presumably lost.
It turns out that Rachel is more than casually curious about Tom and Anna. Rachel is a stalker. She phones him at all hours, she leaves notes at the house, and she wanders the neighborhood as she stares at the front door.
One night when she’s there, neighbor Megan goes missing.
A problem is – and it’s huge – when Rachel has been drinking she’s prone to mental blackouts. There are whole chunks of time – from minutes to hours – for which she has no memory. So combined with her guilt and self-loathing over her failed marriage, Rachel begins to wonder whether she’s been bad. Maybe really, really bad?
Like, maybe, did she somehow hurt perfect-housewife Megan? And what happened to Megan, anyway? Did she run off with a lover, or will they find her body in a ditch?
That’s as far as I’ll go. No more spoilers. But I’m just priming the pump. This is a big book, and, by turns, Rachel, Anna, and Megan tell their first-person stories.
Debut novelist Paula Hawkins knows her craft. At its basis, The Girl on the Train is an ingeniously twisted  mystery. It’s a woman-jeopardy plot with multiple victims. But, be warned, there are occasional bouts of intense domestic violence.
You might wonder whether this bestseller will be a movie, and apparently it will. DreamWorks has it in pre-production with Tate Taylor (The Help) to direct. Emily Blunt has been cast in the title role of Rachel. In the book she’s described as pudgy and somewhat homely. I guess Hollywood (UK office?) thought that was a bad idea. I doubt if the svelte Ms. Blunt will be donning a fat-suit or actually putting on weight for this role. Perhaps a touch less makeup, dear?
As I say, this is a big book, and what probably won’t make it to script or screen are Rachel’s agonizing internal monologues.
But what you will see, I can predict, is every one of those wife-battering fights.
Even more titillating to movie audiences than a good wartime firefight with semiautomatic weapons is to see some sweaty guy slapping his hot babe around.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Art Thief by Noah Charney

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 40

Here’s my book review of The Art Thief: A Novel by Noah Charney.

Noah Charney is a professor of art history and an expert in fine art forgery and theft. And in this novel he proves himself to be a sly spinner of detective yarn. The Art Thief is a tale of brain-teasing complexity involving multiple, interconnected forgeries and thefts of historic paintings from several institutions. And its resolution necessarily involves multiple detectives and forensic experts, each as colorful and eccentric in his own way as Inspector Clouseau. The victims – museum curators and aristo collectors – are a classier bunch who tend to both snobbery and hypocrisy – not the most admirable human beings. Classiest of all are the scheming thieves and forgers. You see, in today’s genre fiction, perpetrators of  these presumably victimless crimes against the upper class have the cachet of winners at Wimbledon. Well played, chaps! In a previous generation, this place of honor was held by jewel thieves who connived to execute intricately plotted heists. Remember Cary Grant – never more dashing than in his role as John Robie in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief? Or Melina Mercouri and her artful crew in Topkapi?

Along the way, Prof. Charney is going to teach you a lot about art history and criticism. And that’s even if you consider yourself well versed. He’s never happier or more entertaining than when his donnish characters tear off on rants to their dunderhead students about how to study paintings.
Here’s an example. His Professor Barrow pontificates: “I speak of observation, looking in order to gather information, rather than merely looking. Look deeper. Observation followed by logical deduction leads to solution. You shall see.”

And isn’t this just what the reader of a detective story must learn to do? Observe and deduce?
The Art Thief is great fun, but my advice would be to keep a scratchpad handy. The plots, the players, the crosses and the double-crosses are so intertwined you’ll want to make a diagram to keep track.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My new novel about an art scandal in 1890s Paris - Bonfire of the Vanderbilts – comes out in September. Barnes & Noble is taking advance orders. And by all means catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com!

Available for preorders at BN.com

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 39

This week's radio book review was a reprise of The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.

Available for presale at BN.com.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 38

Here’s my book review of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley.

Novelist Walter Mosley is best known for his Easy Rawlins crime stories and the feature film Devil in a Blue Dress. But The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey isn’t a whodunit. It’s artful, introspective literary fiction about a 91-year-old man near the end of his life.

Ptolemy Grey lives by himself in a shabby one-bedroom apartment in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles. His place is stacked with the trash of a lifetime. You see, he hasn’t paid any attention to it since he woke up one morning to find his beloved last wife Sensia lying dead beside him.

When Sensia passed, he threw a tarp over everything in the bedroom and closed the door. He now sleeps on a mattress under a table in the kitchen. He rarely goes out, except when his grand-nephew Reggie walks him to the store for a few meager supplies. And he’s terrified to open the door for anyone.

The narrative is full of Ptolemy’s fretful thoughts. He has outlived almost all of his closest friends and loved ones. And early in this story, he finds that Reggie has been killed in a drive-by shooting.
Another nephew, Hilly, drops by to take him to Reggie’s wake. There Ptolemy meets Robyn, a gorgeous, slender girl who is about to turn eighteen. She decides to take care of him, becoming his last love, albeit Platonic, but intense as any of the romances in his long life.

As Ptolemy says to her:  

I love you and I couldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you taking care of me. And if you were twenty years older and I fifty years less I’d ask you to be my wife and not a soul on this earth would have ever had better.

This may well be Walter Mosley’s best book.

(In 2013 actor Samuel L. Jackson said in an interview with Red Carpet News TV that he had acquired the movie rights to Ptolemy Grey. However, as of this writing, IMDBPro.com does not list the project.)

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, June 28, 2015

Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind by Anne Roiphe

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 37

Here’s my book review of  Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind by Anne Roiphe.

If you’re in therapy or considering it, you may find this novel unsettling. It’s about Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Estelle Berman, and two of her colleagues – middle-aged men identified only as Dr. H and Dr. Z. Most of the other characters in the book are their students or their patients. And all of these lives intersect and become entangled.

To some of her patients and even her friends, Dr. Berman can seem cold and calculating. She thinks of herself as wise and practical. All of the therapists in this story are trying improve the lives of their patients, who range from troubled to disturbed, many of them needing medication but not hospitalization.

There’s Justine, the gorgeous young movie star, who is anorexic and a kleptomaniac. There’s homely and lonely Anne, who fears she’s unlovable and gets coaxed out of the closet, only to be jilted. And the doctors refer their own children to each other for treatment. Dr. Z’s daughter Ronit is stressed because she can’t get pregnant, then Dr. Z is stressed about the possible complications when he finds out she’s carrying twins.

These are psychiatric case histories flavored with personal drama. We get insight into the mental processes and disorders of the patients, as well as those of their doctors. Because from Roiphe’s vantage point, all human minds are troubled. It’s just that some of us live with our demons better than others.

This is Anne Roiphe’s tenth novel, and she’s been described as a first-generation feminist. She’s also done nonfiction books and articles on family issues and mental health. She has an insider’s grasp of the psychiatric profession, and at times it’s not at all flattering.

Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind is a peek into the tangled psyches of a few intelligent people, most of them well-to-do and white, in today’s New York City. To paraphrase the narrator of the old TV series, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is just a few of them.” And whether outwardly healthy or visibly disturbed, each of us suffers daily from self-doubt, jealousy, rage, guilt, arrogance, fears, phobias, and nightmares.

This dark novel could make for a fascinating book report. But a summer beach read, it’s not.
For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones, the author of the humorous novel Farnsworth’s Revenge. Catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Do and I Don't by Jeanine Basinger

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 36

Here’s my book review of I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies by Jeanine Basinger. Basinger is professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, my alma mater, and during her tenure there, she’s been mentor to many of the Hollywood filmmakers who are today referred to as the Wesleyan Mafia. She is one of the most influential of our present-day film historians.

I Do and I Don’t is a critical survey of studio pictures from the silent era up through recent times. Movies in America were formally censored during the ’Thirties and ’Forties, the main reason that even into the ’Fifties, all screen married couples slept in twin beds. The rich ones had separate bedrooms, perhaps for other reasons. But Basinger emphasizes that Hollywood’s view on marriage evolved over the decades for primarily commercial reasons – to appeal to the people – most of them women – who bought tickets.

First off, if you’re considering writing a screenplay about your happy marriage, forget it. Even before the talkies, moviemakers understood that happy couples are just plain boring. Conflict is drama, as Aristotle once said. And the most hilarious romantic comedies are the same, with the volume turned way up.

Basinger tells us that marriage movies are rooted in problems, including money, infidelity, children, illness, death, and forced separation.

In every era, the studios were skilled at giving the audience what it wanted but might not admit – namely stories about their secret fears and suppressed desires. In the movies, any misbehavior, any sin, any abusive behavior can be indulged in, as long as the responsible party is punished before the lights come back up. That way, the audience can leave the theater feeling both satisfied and self-righteous.

Take for example George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib, in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are trial lawyers married to each other and squared off as opposing counsel on the same case. In the famous massage scene, Tracy gives Hepburn a playful slap. She takes it the wrong way, and the scene ends as she gives him a swift kick in the ankle. If that movie were made today, you know her aim would be higher.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Adultery by Paulo Coelho

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 35

Here’s my book review of Adultery by Paulo Coelho.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho is a New Age philosopher who gives his self-help advice in fables, moral tales with lessons learned. He is perhaps best known for his book The Alchemist.

Adultery is no exception to his body of work. It’s a moral tale told as a first-person confession by Linda, a bored, middle-class housewife who strays from her marriage. The narrative is spare, lacking much of the picture-painting detail you’d expect in a novel. Instead, it reads like a transcript from a psychiatric counseling session. That’s disappointing if you’re looking for an escapist story – but of course the last thing Coelho wants you to do is escape. If you came to this book, you’d better face facts.

This book is highly commercial, aimed at women’s book clubs. The story does not depart from Linda’s mundane life, glamorous as it might seem on the surface. She works as a journalist in Geneva, Switzerland and has all the material wealth she could desire, as well as a doting husband with his own professional career, and well-behaved children. Her lover is a politician and his spiteful wife is a university professor. But no one gets killed, and the only violence is some indirect insults over dinner.

I don’t know the statistics, but I believe more affairs end in reconciliation than divorce. It’s not love but communication that’s missing. This book has nothing new to say about any of that.

Guys, if your wife’s book club is reading Adultery (and there are group discussion questions in the back), you won’t be asked to leave the room. You’ll be told to leave the house!

Here's an observation I didn't include in the podcast: Coelho's prose may be especially spare in this book because his narrator is a no-nonsense Swiss. If she were a hot-blooded Italian, perhaps it would be a different book - or not a book at all without all that brooding guilt. Anyhow, despite the lack of narrative ornament, Adultery is not without its interesting sidelights. Linda can't help remarking on the chills she feels as she gazes at the statue of Protestant reformer John Calvin. "His tactics for implementing what he believed to be the ultimate truth remind me of the perverted mind of Osama bin Laden. Both men had the same goal: to install a theocratic state... And neither of the two hesitated to use terror to achieve their goals."

Coelho's distaste for formal religion is evident here as he points out that the father of present-day Presbyterians didn't hesitate to execute heretical intellectuals and their families, including all their children.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 34

Here’s my book review of The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth.

Philip Roth is best known for his classic boychik lit coming-of-age story, Portnoy’s Complaint. Remember boychik is Yiddish for a young man with more chutzpah than brains. And, all of Roth’s novels since then seem to be about self-centered males who are thinly disguised extensions of his own fragile ego.

The Professor of Desire is the first-person confession of David Kepesh, an English professor like Roth himself, who obsesses, not about finding love so much as gratifying his urges without feeling too guilty.

We meet him as overprotected young man working in his family’s business. When he wins a scholarship to attend university in London, he has his first adult relationships with a pair of Swedish girls, Elisabeth and Birgitta. Ideal as the situation might seem for a man of his age and lusts, he’s miserable. Elisabeth moves out because he’s inconsiderate. Birgitta stays and is more than willing to please, but her eagerness turns him off.

Flash forward, and David falls for gorgeous supermodel Helen, who led a shadowy past life in Southeast Asia. Ignoring the fact that she must have left her heart there, he worships her, and they marry. One day, she leaves him abruptly for Singapore to take up with her former lover. And not so much because of anything David did or didn’t do, but because she simply doesn’t care enough about him.

Now entering his forties, David takes up with Claire, a sweet shiksa from New England, a caring, sensible woman, and the relationship is too good to be true. Just when David is beginning to suspect he can’t go the distance, his widowed father shows up all excited that his son will finally make a happy marriage.

We don’t get to find out. That’s where the book ends. The Professor of Desire was published in 1977, about the time activists like Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem were redefining feminism. They were mostly successful inspiring a new generation of young women. But Roth seems to be stumbling around, muttering to himself about what it means to be a man. He really doesn’t have a clue.

I didn't have a chance to include this comment in my radio podcast review, but revisiting this book decades later doesn't bring any surprises about gender roles in today's society. But what is striking is the ageism that becomes apparent in Roth's work. At the end of the novel, David is about forty and his father is past sixty. Roth describes the older man as doddering, forgetful, and foolish. And David's second-worst fear, after doubting his own worthiness as a companion for Claire, is that his father will die soon. If this book were written today, the portrait of the father would not be credible unless the man were in his eighties. Even then, many mature readers whose minds are still sharp would find the caricature of the senile dad distasteful.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My series of humorous boychik lit novels is The Misadventures of Rollo Hemphill. And you can catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.

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


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.