Tour’s Books Blog

April 25, 2014

Meandering Around the Past and a Look Ahead

So I’m sitting here listening to Julia Migenes sing Habanera in the movie version of Carmen (Placido Domingo played Jose, and may I just say he was a handsome devil who is, even now, a good looking guy) and thinking my tastes in music are almost a bi-polar as my taste in books.  I’m not much better about movies, except for one universal truth, I try and avoid horror and the ‘deep’ stuff.  Oddly enough, I do like Shakespeare, but I’d rather break a leg than endure Death of a Salesman or Brothers Karamazov.  And forget about Ingmar Bergman, I’d really rather watch Some Like It Hot or The Magnificent Seven.

So what does all this have to do with books?  Well, books get made into movies ………… OK, SOME books get made into movie, others just lend their title to some dreadful claptrap that bears little or no resemblance to the source material – like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and (shudder) what was done to One Shot by Lee Child so Tom Cruise could play 6’5″ blond, blue-eyed Jack Reacher.  Oh, just kill me now.  And occasionally, current events echo the past in an eerie fashion.  The death of 13 Sherpas on Mt Everest made me think of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a great book about his own tragic experience on Everest.  Short, and much criticized by others on the mountain at the time, it reads as compellingly as great fiction.  Apollo 13, a movie that was based on another real life event was also so well done, viewers were tensely waiting to see what would happen, despite knowing the ending.  In both cases, the story was history, yet we become so involved in the telling, it’s as if it were all fresh.  And that is the gift of the best non-fiction.  Not just facts, telling an enthralling story.

My mother was a history teacher and so was her best friend.  They taught in neighboring towns and both taught primarily American history II – Reconstruction to modern times.  And both would teach summer classes, sometimes extra credit ones for smaller topics.  I was driving them both to school one summer morning (so I could have the car, of course) and Anita says to Mom, “Yesterday I was talking about WWI and really selling the whole story to this one kid who just looked bored and I noticed the guys that were supposed to be painting the windows were just sitting there listening to me.  I never knew I was such a ham!”  Mom laughed and said, “The best history teachers are all hams!”

I probably heard Mom say, “How can anyone find history boring?  It’s OUR story?  It’s great!”, a hundred times, and she really meant it.  And if you get a good teacher, it is.  Unfortunately, really good teachers are rare, especially ones that want you to love their subject as much as they do.  Well, good movies and good books – memorable ones that stand the test of time – are pretty rare too.   I’ve seen Macbeth many times, everything from college productions to the Royal Shakespeare Theater.  I still like it.  The first movies I bought for my dad when I got him a VHS player (remember those?) were Some Like It Hot, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, African Queen, and Casablanca.  If I had to pick the best movie ever, yeah, Casablanca.  No fancy sets – in fact, they’re kind of cheesy.  No great special effects.  Actually, other than squibs for guns, none at all.  But a cast, story, dialogue, direction, and acting to remember.  It also makes me realize what crappy movies they make these days.

So I got to thinking about the best books I ever read and realized that the list changes over time.  Not just because something new is better, but because, in retrospect, the book I thought was so great did not hold up over time.  So from time to time, we need to revisit our lists, and update them – and actually reread the books we on our lists.  One example is Plum Island by Nelson DeMille, a book I thought terrific.  I got a copy for my brother about a year ago, and he was ‘Meh, it was ok.’  Now he and I usually have very similar tastes in the mystery/thriller genre (Except he does not deal well with characters that are neither good nor bad, and the ending is ambivalent.)  So I went back and re-read the book myself.  He was right.  It was good, not great, and had not aged as well as it should.  I also re-read Sphere of Influence by Kyle Mills and realized it had held up much better over time for an action thriller.

My other problem is separating ‘the best’ from ‘my favorites’.  Favorites tend to have a lot of humor for me.  Wiseguy PI’s, humorous assassins, off-beat romance.  No, not great books and certainly not great literature, just best friends.  And ‘Favorites’ books tend to land on my bedside table.  I like a lot of books, but not many well enough to re-read them again and again over the years.  I can admire movies like All the Kings Men and Chariots of Fire, both best picture winners, but I’d rather watch Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov or The Great Race, with Jack Lemon chewing the scenery as Professor Fate and Natalie Wood looking great in Edith Head costumes while Tony Curtis plays ever competent, sparkling white hero.  No where near the perfection of Some Like It Hot, but it does have the best pie fight ever filmed.

I figure we all pick ‘the best’ wrong now and then.  The best picture of 1941 was How Green Was My Valley.  Sounds ok, right?  It’s competition is was tough – everything from The Maltese Falcon (my favorite) to Suspicion, a Hitchcock gem.  But the real kicker?  Passed over was the film widely regarded as “The Best Movie Ever Made” – Citizen Kane.  Yeah, we really do all get it wrong.

Same is true of books.  Winning awards may, or may not mean anything.  Barry Eisler’s brilliant John Rain series won one award.  Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has multiple nominations and awards, some deserved, some not.  Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books are almost ALL nominated and many won a whole host of awards – and they deserved it.  And some of the lame cozies that win awards just baffle me.

Great movies, great books, and great food are very personal tastes.  My brother hates wine, he’d rather have soda.  He wants simple food, not some complicated thing.  He’ll eat Cheez Whiz.  (Yes, I just flinched writing that.)  We both like dates stuffed with Skippy peanut butter and rolled in granulated sugar, something we learned to make in Kindergarten.  We also both like Jersey wieners – hot dogs steamed then fried in deep fat till the skins are crunchy (and split a bit), get slapped on fresh bun, mustard, raw onion, and smothered in a weird meat sauce that half gravy, half God knows what (and please don’t tell me!).  Heart attack on a plate.  I like good wine and really appreciate great, but not pretentious, food.  No, I would not spend a dime on ‘molecular cuisine’.  Seriously, food is a science experiment?  GAH!  I can watch a favorite movie so many times I can do the dialogue.  And I can re-read a book till the poor thing all but falls apart.

Top of my list of rereads is Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Cruise and Bob Mayer.  It didn’t get a great review from me the first time I read it, but it just stands up to time.  Stand By Your Hit Man by Leslie Langtry hits this list too.  Part of her Bombay Assassin series, it was also one that did not impress at first, but again, has stood up to time.  Louisiana Longshot by Jana DeLeon is another funny assassin book that has created a whole fan club for its characters as well as homepage for Sinful, Louisiana, the setting for the books.  The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is there as well.  It was great on the first read and is still great.  It has some of the BEST lines ever.

“This should be a pleasant little interview. All I have to do is put on my scary face.”
“You have a scary face?” Ingrid sounded skeptical.
“Yes,” said Myfanwy indignantly. “I have a very scary face.”
Ingrid surveyed her for a moment. “You may wish to take off the cardigan then, Rook Thomas,” she advised tactfully. “The flowers on the pocket detract somewhat from your menace.” 

Seriously, how could I not love this book?  By the way, the second book is tentatively scheduled for 2015 and the proposed title is Stiletto.  It will pick up where The Rook left off.  River Road is my most re-read of the Sentinel of New Orleans series by Suzanne Johnson.  Hounded, by Kevin Hearne makes this list too.  And for paranormal romance, The Accidental Vampire and Single White Vampire, both part of the early Argeneau books by Lynsay Sands.

The most re-read mystery?  Lullaby Town by Robert Crais.  That’s followed by Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum books 1 to 7.  After that, meh and after 13, I barely made 1 read.  And Raymond Chandler.  Yes, I have a lot of classic mysteries and I re-read them – and realize just how much we’ve dumbed down our books.

By the way, all those books make good beach reads……….. except maybe The Rook.  That one is a bit hard to put down.

So, with spring FINALLY rearing its colorful head, we can start picking our next reads.  On order and top of my TBR when they hit the door?  Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones, the latest in her excellent and original Charley Davidson series.  Next up will be Shattered by Kevin Hearne, his latest Iron Druid book, first hard cover, and the one where his old mentor is brought back, Arch Druid Owen Kennedy.  YEAH!  Skin Deep by Jim Butcher’s latest Harry Dresden, and Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Alex Verus are on the list too as is a new series by Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road.  It will be August before the next Spider book is out by Jennifer Estep, Promise, Promise.  Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper is due in June.

On the mystery front, a new David Housewright, The Devil May Care, and a new Craig Johnson book in his Longmire series, Any Other Name will hit my hot little hands soon.  Yeah, there’s kind of a dearth of good mysteries.

Keep reading and revisit those old favorites and see if you change your mind too!

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: