A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The first time I read A Gentleman in Moscow was for a real book club. I absolutely adored it on my first read, and I had been very attentive, knowing that I would be discussing it with some very smart women in a few short weeks. I had really enjoyed Amor Towles first novel, Rules of Civility, although it had a somewhat chilly tone, and found A Gentleman in Moscow to be a much warmer and even more satisfying a read. Continue reading “A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles”

Picasso by Norman Mailer

Yo–el Rey. I, the king. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso wrote that three times on a self portrait painted when he was just 19 and about to leave his native Spain for Paris, where he became something more than a king. The funny thing about a grotesquely outsized ego is that very occasionally it is actually representing an equally legendary and outsized talent, intellect, beauty or charismatic personality; the deep flaws of entitlement, narcissism and infidelity such an ego sanctions can be overlooked, even forgiven. Continue reading “Picasso by Norman Mailer”

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

It was easy to pull Electric Kool-Aid off the shelf after reading the Grateful Dead biography. Tom Wolfe brilliantly describes Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster scene, of which the Grateful Dead were a major contributor, in this somewhat novelized, novel-length report. Continue reading “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe”

A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally

A few weeks ago I found out that a man I’d lost touch with killed himself last spring. He’d been a magnificent influence on me in the early 1990s. We wrote for the same magazine, but his writing was many leagues beyond my work horse prose. Where he would wax romantic, I would wane maudlin, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me so. But he was kind. One late night in his office cluttered with rock specimens, empty bottles of great wines and hundreds of books, he let me recite “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in its entirety. I was nervous, so he handed me a stress ball to squeeze. That’s a good friend. I’d forgotten his kindness. Continue reading “A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally”

Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell

As I wrote in my unfinished report about Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God, I encountered Joseph Campbell (who I refer to as “the other JC”) in around 1987 after his death and after he had done the famous Powers of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers. Nothing makes me feel more like a water buffalo in a herd than trending with the rest of America after a PBS special. Continue reading “Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell”

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson, I learned from reading the back flap of my cherished First Edition of The Orphan Master’s Son, is a professor and lives in San Francisco. I got chills–genius is always so close and yet so far, right? I feel a stupid sort of pride in the fact that the author of such a great book lives in my neck of the woods.

I originally read this book right after it came out. I had just joined a book club and it was the very first book I read with that club; unfortunately it and maybe a couple of others were the only few books I thoroughly enjoyed over three years in the club (which in part led to the formation of the SBC). I reread The Orphan Master’s son last week and it was every bit as good as I remembered with the added oomph being that I now know so much more about North Korea (thanks, Donald Trump) than I did in 2011, and that made it all the more impressive and intriguing. Continue reading “The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson”

On Nature, Lucretius

I haven’t read philosophy since my 20s. Without a classmates and a teacher to be accountable to, philosophy is just behind math, science and cook books on my snore setting. But a girlfriend wanted to read it so I agreed to temporarily form a book club of two and let my selfish guard down slightly. She better not flake out and not read it because it’s pretty fucking tedious. But gold mining is tedious too, and occasionally the odd nugget makes the process completely worthwhile. Continue reading “On Nature, Lucretius”

1984 by George Orwell

The 80s are back and I can hardly believe it. There is a female editor (again, post Tina) at Vanity Fair, ridiculous volume in clothing, and a familiar new wave sound on the Sirius XMU channel, and they are giving me flashbacks. I never thought I’d worry about shoulder pads and nuclear war again, but here we are. Big Brother is one thing, but the return of Big Hair would be a real tragedy.

The news of the day, with themes of surveillance, white nationalism and American exceptionalism make it a perfect time to revisit George Orwell’s 1984. I sure hope they are still reading it in high school, although from the sound of the Parkland student speeches and youthful activism of the moment, maybe they don’t need to. 1984 made me quake in my jelly sandals in the 80s;  I’m glad to see the kids of 2018 have the courage to speak truth to power. Continue reading “1984 by George Orwell”

Hell’s Angels, Hunter S. Thompson

How do you write a report on a book by Hunter S. Thompson without sounding like a total asshole? I’m glad he’s not alive to google his name and find this blog entry (not that he would, but one of his minions might). I picture him in his prime, driving to my house, tumbler of whiskey in one hand, skull-head pipe in the other, just a finger or two on the wheel, making it from Aspen outskirts to unincorporated Calistoga in a bleary 15 hours so he could shoot out my lights personally with a lovingly polished 45 magnum. Continue reading “Hell’s Angels, Hunter S. Thompson”

Art of the San Francisco Bay Area (1945-1980), by Thomas Albright

It happened again: one of my heroes died before I even knew about him. First it was Chris Whitley, a musician and amazing song writer I first became aware of in 1991 when his song “Big Sky Country” was the sexiest, most memorable and poetic thing I’d heard on the radio in years and I bought the album. He was in his 30s then I think, and I thought I had plenty of time to hear him live, even though I never go to live concerts and didn’t even really think about it until I bought two more of his albums, Dirt Floor and Soft Dangerous Shores, the latter released in 2005, the year he died of lung cancer at age 45. By the time I fell in love with Soft Dangerous Shores he was dead.  Continue reading “Art of the San Francisco Bay Area (1945-1980), by Thomas Albright”