Recent Read: Mystery Inc.

OatesWhen I lived in New York City, there was a bookstore called the Gotham Book Mart.  The store had a long and famous history and was a favorite for many authors and other celebrities. Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones worked there as clerks. Arthur Miller and Woody Allen were frequent visitors. Patti Smith’s book of poetry Witt was published by the Gotham Book Mart. That was in 1973 about the time I was making my own sojourns to the 47th Street location. At the time, I had no idea of the bookstore’s background and history, but the Gotham Book Mart was a book lovers’ ideal dream of what the perfect bookstore should be.

The Gotham kept coming to mind as I read Joyce Carol Oates eloquently written  short story, Mystery Inc. Bookstores like the Gotham Book Mart and the one described in Oates devious tale are a dying breed. Located in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Mystery Inc. is a charming, cozy, four leveled store with one level dedicated to rare signed first editions by Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr and unsigned first editions of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  There is much more, enough to make our narrator, Charles Brockden, salivate. The name is an alias and with good reason. You might say Mr. Brockden collects bookstores like others collect books. His method of acquisition is a deadly one for the owners. Brockden does not like to kill, but his desire to own the bookstores is more potent than his will see them in other less deserving hands. Unbeknownst to our narrator, he has never come  up against someone who likes to murder just for the sake of killing.

The owner, Aaron Neuhaus, is outgoing and enthusiastic and happy to engage with someone who loves books as much as he does. He invites our narrator to talk in his private office over a cup of cappuccino. Brockden likes the man and feels terrible that he  has to murder him. Still, he sees himself as the owner of the cozy store and even imagines himself marrying Neuhaus’ widow.

”Mystery Inc. was initially published as part of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop’s  Bibliomystery series which has been ongoing for some years now with something like more than thirty titles in the series. It has since been published as part of a collection of short fiction by the author (The Doll-Maker and other Tales of Terror) and as a stand-alone.

Oates is a fabulous writer, and while you may be able to guess how it will turn out, this foreshadowing just makes it more chilling.

Visions of Maine – Part 3

Part 3 is the final post in the series of photos from my recent trip to Maine. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Main Street,  Bar Harbor

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View from Inside Ellsworth, Maine Library

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Flowers with Schooner

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Belfast, Maine 

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Opera House – Belfast, Maine

You can read a bit of history at this link.

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Bar Harbor Inn

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Recent Read: Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters

MockFew novels have proven to be as important and influential as To Kill a Mockingbird, and few films have become just as important as its source material. Tom Santopietro (The Godfather Effect, Sinatra in Hollywood, Becoming Doris Day) is one of the finest pop culture writers working today. In his new book, the author take a deep dive look at the cultural impact of both Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1960, and the now iconic film released in 1962. Over its more than 50 years existence, To Kill a Mockingbird has been both praised and banned. Criticized and hailed by both liberals and conservatives.

Santopietro paints a detailed look beginning with Harper Lee’s childhood in the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama, the inspiration for Maycomb, the fictional town in Lee’s classic. It ends with the publication of Go Tell the Watchman, Lee’s original and extremely different first draft. In between, we get well known and little known details such as Spencer Tracy was originally considered for the role of Atticus Finch. We all know Gregory Peck landed the part in what would turn out to be the role of a lifetime. Who else can be Atticus Finch!

Almost sixty years after its publication, To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of the most read and influential books in America, required reading in many high schools. As relevant today as it was back in the 1960’s. It asks some,hard questions. Can a country that has fought to make the world safe from tyranny and fascism somehow save itself and live up to its potential as a democracy where there is justice and freedom for all. Today, we are failing. As the author  points out, substitute Muslims and Mexicans, along with other South Americans attempting to enter the country, for blacks and you have to asked yourself how much has really changed?

With over 40 million books in print, everyone whether liberal or conservative wants to have an Atticus Finch in his or her life.


Burn, Baby Burn: America and The Burning of Books and Ideas

fahrenheitresizedI recently watched HBO’s remake of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 starring Michael Jordan and Michael Shannon. The film got me thinking about our political climate today and the suppression of ideas that do not coincide with the company line. It made me think about how close we are from this incendiary topic becoming a reality.

Fahrenheit 451 was written in the early 1950’s during the McCarthy witch hunts, a point in time when the author feared America reached a point where the burning of ‘subversive’ literature was more than a slight possibility.  The book focuses on an American society in the near future where owning a book is a crime. ‘Firemen’ are employed to burn any books found.

When I came across the book cover of the edition pictured above, I thought how simple, yet powerfully effective it was. The title with the ‘1′ replaced by a matchstick. That one degree, stressing the point where paper burns.

Book burning or other materials has a history going a long way back to before Christ. In America, the first book burning occurred during the War of 1812, when the British, not the Canadians, in 1814 burned down the U.S. Capital and other facilities of the Government including most of the 3,000 books housed in the Library of Congress.

In 1935, Government officials of Warsaw, Indiana where author Theodore Dreiser (An American Tragedy, Sister Carrie) was born and attended high school, demanded that all library copies of Dreiser’s inflammatory books be burned.

After World War II, with the defeat of Germany and the Japanese, some Americans needed to find a new battle. A German-born psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham who treated delinquent children discovered during his hospital work in Harlem that most of thee troubled kids he worked with read comic books. He came up with his own formula equating kids times comic books = juvenile delinquency. By 1948, Wertham was on a crusade attacking comic books in some very prestigious magazines. His attacks on the comic book industry continued for years including presenting himself to the 1954 U.S. Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Juvenile Delinquency wherein part he stated, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.” Pressure was put on comic book publishers to stem the tide of this dreaded menace. Parental concerns mounted. On October 26, 1948, in the town of Spencer, West Virginia, religious leaders, teachers, and parents oversaw the collection and burning of hundreds and hundreds of evil comic books. It wasn’t just the South that was in an uproar. Shortly after that Binghamton, New York conducted their own public barn book fire. In light of the publicity by the news media, other cities followed including Rumson, New Jersey, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Chicago. The fever even spread across to the Canadian border when a group called the JayCee Youth Leadership collected and burned more than 8,000 comic books. It was in this heated climate that Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451.

datebook_july_1966For baby-boomers, the most famous book burning was the 1966 Beatles controversy. Religious conservatives in the South’s Bible Belt were up in arms after John Lennon’s quote “we are more popular than Jesus” was taken out of context from an interview with journalist Maureen Cleave that originally appeared in London’s Evening Standard some five months earlier.  When the U.S. teen magazine, Datebook published the interview, Lennon’s quote “I don’t know which will go first – Rock ‘n’ Roll or Christianity!” was on the front cover. In Birmingham, Alabama, always a hotbed of progressive thinking. DJ’s banned the playing of Beatles records. As the British rock group’s tour in the U.S. began protests rocked all over the South: Beatles records, magazines and books were tossed into large piles by fired up parents and teens and burned.

Most recently (2006) J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books attracted attention due to claims that the magic in the Potter book series struck a strong resemblance to practices of the occult. Incidents of Potter book burning occurred in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and Charlotte, South Carolina. Protestant, Catholic and mostly from Evangelical Christian groups flamed the claims.

Like other classic novels, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World and It Can’t Happen Here, Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about suppression, control of people and ideas. With the political climate we face today it seemed to be a timely move by HBO to remake Bradbury’s novel into a movie. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Montag, a rising star in the ranks of ‘fireman’ who starts to develop doubts about the mission of suppressing books after meeting a rebelling young woman. Michael Shannon is Captain Beatty.  In the world of the future, people need not bother themselves with unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Books are the culprit. They bring up depressing subject matter, sadness and most frightening to the government, independent thinking. Subsequently, the government sanctions drugs, emotionally free relationships and numbing mass media. Those who disobey are eliminated.

While Jordan and Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty are very good, the film, though not bad, is a disappointment. An even bigger disappointment when compared to Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film which though it moves at a slower pace definitely captures the feel and beliefs behind Bradbury totalitarian tale.

Visions of Maine – Part 2

Part 2 in my series of photographs from a recent trip to Maine. You can find Part 1 here.

Somesville, Maine

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Arcadia National State Park

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Somesville, Maine

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Bird Houses

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The First Church of Belfast (Maine)

The steeple bell of The First Church was made by the Revere and Son Co., as in Paul Revere. It was installed in 1819.

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Bar Harbor Schooner