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VINELAND By Thomas Pynchon and VINELAND REREAD By Peter Coviello

I read Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland when it was published in 1990 and when I finished it, I thought, “It took Pynchon 17 years to produce this disappointing work.”

In 1973, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow generated a lot of controversy. The Pulitzer Advisory Board was offended by Gravity’s Rainbow’s content, some of which was described as “‘unreadable, turgid, overwritten, and in parts obscene.” No Pulitzer Prize for Literature was awarded that year. Then, in 1990, Vineland was published to very mixed reviews. I thought it sucked.

Peter Coviello loves Vineland and managed to talk Columbia University Press into paying him to write a defense of Thomas Pynchon’s novel. The Pandemic has lured me into a lot of crazy stuff–reading Charles Stross’s 1800 page novel, reading books that have been on my shelves for decades, etc.–so rereading Vineland after 30 years somehow seemed like a Good Idea. It wasn’t.

The same silliness I encountered the first time I read Vineland didn’t go away. “The Vibrating Palm”–an exotic ninja move that causes its victim to drop dead a year after its application–is just one of the nutty parts of this story. Evil Brock Vond and his DEA stooges engage in mysterious conspiracies. Young Prairie yearns to meet her mother, Vond’s lover and an informant.

I slogged through Vineland for a second time, not liking it despite all of Peter Coviello’s enthusiasm. He found the novel funny, I did not. Are you a Thomas Pynchon fan? How often do you reread books? GRADE: C (for both books)

Table of Contents

Prologue: Whatever’s Fair — 1
Part I
1. The Great Southcoast Plaza Eyeshadow Raid (’94) — 15
2. They Woke, the Thanatoids Awoke (’02) — 38
Part II
3. Scabland Garrison State (’08) –69
4. Secret Retributions (’19– …) — 104
Acknowledgments — 125
Notes — 127
Index — 139

SKINNY POP MICROWAVE POPCORN

Diane and I occasionally buy a bag of popped Skinny Pop popcorn. Skinny Pop tastes good and is deemed “healthy” by looking at its Nutrition Facts. When we were in BJ’s Warehouse the other day, we saw Skinny Pop Microwave Popcorn for the first time. Of course, we had to try it.

The instructions give a time interval for microwaving. I set our microwave for two minutes and it did the job. However, the bag of Skinny Pop Microwave Popcorn was super-hot! I had to use oven mitts to remove it from the microwave. Opening the bag is tricky, too, unless you want to get burned.

However, once the bag cooled off, the popcorn inside was tasty. Skinny Pop Microwave Popcorn bag is a little smaller than normal microwave popcorn bags we’re used to. No matter. Just less calories, right?

Do you like popcorn? Do you have a preferred brand? GRADE: B

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #651: B-SIDE BOOKS: ESSAYS ON FORGOTTEN FAVORITES Edited By John Plotz

Tell me the truth,” I said.

“What truth?” he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long, long train with a black cloud of black smoke swirling over it and himself leaning out the window to wave a handkerchief.

I shot him between the eyes. (p. 163)

This is the beginning of Natalia Ginzburg’s The Dry Heart, a love story that Merve Emre thinks should have many more readers. In fact, all the writers who submitted essays on B-Side books, think the books they’re recommending should be widely read.

Ursula K. Le Guin thinks John Galt’s Annals of the Parish has aspects that Jane Austen would appreciate. Lorraine Daston believes that we should all indulge in The Vehement Passions by Philip Fisher. Kathryn Lofton tells how reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology launched her on a course to become an academic.

Reading B-Side Books: Essays on Forgotten Favorites once again resulted in generating a list of books to buy. Do you see anything here you’d like to read? GRADE: A

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Foreword, by Sharon Marcus, series editor — xv
Acknowledgments — xxi
Introduction, by John Plotz — 1
Part I: Childhood, Through a Glass Darkly — 5
1. A Girl of the Limberlost (Gene Stratton-Porter), by Rebecca Zorach — 7
2. TheYoung Visiters (Daisy Ashford), by Caleb Crain — 12
3. The Diary of “Helena Morley” (Elizabeth Bishop, trans.), by Elizabeth Ferry — 18
4. Brown Girl, Brownstones (Paule Marshall), by Adrienne Brown — 23
5. An American Childhood (Annie Dillard), by Salvatore Scibona — 29
6. The Last Samurai (Helen DeWitt), by Toril Moi — 34
Part II. Other Worlds — 41
7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Seeta Chaganti — 43
8. The House on the Borderland (William Hope Hodgson), by Namwali Serpell — 49
9. Lolly Willowes (Sylvia Townsend Warner), by Ivan Kreilkamp — 57
10. Mythology (Edith Hamilton), by Kathryn Lofton — 62
11. Other Leopards (Denis Williams), by Emily Hyde — 68
12. Solaris (Stanislaw Lem), by Kate Marshall — 74
13. Riddley Walker (Russell Hoban), by Paul Saint-Amour — 78
Part III. Comedy — 85
14. The Beggar’s Opera (John Gay), by Yoon Sun Lee — 87
15. Lady Into Fox (David Garnett), by Maud Ellmann — 92
16. Prater Violet (Christopher Isherwood), by Stephen McCauley — 98
17. “Rogue’s Gallery” (Mary McCarthy), by Sean McCann — 103
18. Gringos (Charles Portis), by Carlo Rotella — 109
Part IV. Battle and Strife –115
19. The Road to Calvary (Alexei Tolstoy), by Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee — 117
20. The Forbidden Zone (Mary Borden), by Steven Biel and Lauren Kaminsky — 122
21. Nikola the Outlaw (Ivan Olbracht), by Jonathan Bolton — 128
22. The House of Hunger (Dambudzo Marechera), by Isabel Hofmeyr — 134
23. The Short-Timers (Gustav Hasford), by Steven Biel — 140
24. A Flag at Sunrise (Robert Stone), by Ben Fountain — 145
25. TheVehement Passions (Philip Fisher), by Lorraine Daston — 152
Part V. Home Fires — 157
26. Annals of the Parish (John Galt), by Ursula K. Le Guin — 159
27. The Dry Heart (Natalie Ginzburg), by Merve Emre — 163
28. Life Among the Savages; Raising Demons (Shirley Jackson), by Sharon Marcus — 169
29. My Uncle Napoleon (Iraj Pezeshkzad), by Pardis Dabashi — 174
30. We Think the World of You (A. J. Ackerley), by Kevin Brazil — 179
31. All Aunt Hagar’s Children (Edward P. Jones), by Elizabeth Graver — 184
Part VI: Mysteries and Trials — 189
32. The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford, by Ramie Targoff — 191
33. The Riddle of the Sands (Erskine Childers), by Margaret Cohen — 197
34. Stamboul Train (Graham Greene), by Penny Fielding — 203
35. The Hours Before Dawn (Celia Fremlin), by Leah Price — 211
Part VII: Journeys of the Spirit — 219
36. A Life of One’s Own (Marion Millner), by Vanessa Smith — 221
37. Butcher’s Crossing (John Williams), by John Plotz — 226
38. Journey in Search of the Way (Satomi Myōdō), by Theo Davis — 233
39. I Remember (Joe Brainard), by Andrew H. Miller — 239
40. Transformatrix (Patience Agbabi), by Stephanie Burt — 246
List of Contributors — 251

THE SOUL SESSIONS By Joss Stone

Joss Stone rose to fame in late 2003 with her multi-platinum debut album, The Soul Sessions, which made the 2004 Mercury Prize shortlist. Her second album, the similarly multi-platinum Mind Body & Soul (2004), topped the UK Albums Chart and spawned the top ten hit “You Had Me“, Stone’s most successful single on the UK Singles Chart to that point. Both the album and single received one nomination at the 2005 Grammy Awards, while Stone herself was nominated for Best New Artist, and in an annual BBC poll of music critics, Sound of 2004, Stone was ranked fifth as a predicted breakthrough act of 2004. She became the youngest British female singer to top the UK Albums Chart. Stone’s third album, Introducing Joss Stone, released in March 2007, achieved gold record status by the RIAA and yielded the second-ever highest debut for a British female solo artist on the Billboard 200, and became Stone’s first top five album in the US.

The Soul Sessions presents “Blue-Eyed Soul” with Joss Stone’s heart-felt delivery. My favorite song on The Soul Sessions is Stone’s version of The Dells’s hit, “For the Love of You.” If you’re in the mood for some soulful songs, I recommend The Soul Sessions. Do you like soul music? GRADE: B+

Tracklist:

1The Chokin’ Kind3:35
2Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me)Producer – Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ ThompsonProducer – Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson4:20
3Fell In Love With A BoyProducer – Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ ThompsonProducer – Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson3:38
4Victim Of A Foolish Heart5:31
5Dirty Man2:59
6Some Kind Of Wonderful3:56
7I’ve Fallen In Love With You4:29
8I Had A Dream3:01
9All The King’s Horses3:03
10For The Love Of You (Parts 1 & 2)7:33

WEDNESDAY’S SHORT STORIES #32: THE FIEND IN YOU Edited By Charles Beaumont

Back in the 1960s, Ballantine Books published high-end SF and fantasy (the low end was occupied by Tower Books, Leisure Books, and Graphic Books). The Fiend in You (1962) edited by Charles Beaumont was one of the books in Ballantine’s “Chamber of Horrors” series. I didn’t find much horror in The Fiend in You, but there’s plenty of suspense.

My favorite story in The Fiend in You is Stanley Ellin’s classic chess tale, “Fool’s Mate.” When George’s employer gives him a chess set, George’s shrewish wife, Louise, disdains the game. That stalemate gets resolved in typical Ellin fashion. I also love Fritz Leiber’s “The Thirteenth Step” with its haunting big black car with its faceless drivers.

The Fiend in You is a solid suspense collection well worth reading. GRADE: B+

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction / Charles Beaumont — vi
Finger prints / Richard Matheson — 7
Fool’s mate / Stanley Ellin — 14
Big, wide, wonderful world / Charles E. Fritch — 31
The night of the gran baile mascara / Whit Burnett — 35
A punishment to fit the crimes / Richard M. Goredon — 46
The hornet / George Clayton Johnson — 54
Perchance to dream / Charles Beaumont — 59
The thirteenth step / Fritz Leiber — 68
The conspiracy / Robert Lowry — 75
Room with a view / Esther Carlson — 84
The candidate / Henry Slesar — 90
One of those days / William F. Nolan — 98
Lucy comes to stay / Robert Bloch — 103
The women / Ray Bradbury — 110
Surprise! / Ronald Bradford — 121
Mute / Richard Matheson — 127

Introduction to the Ballantine “Chamber of Horrors” Series — 156

LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER

Diane and I decided it was time to attend an actual, live performance so we chose this local theater production of Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter at the MiscialFare Theater starring the talented Debbie Pappas who carries the one-woman show with grace and style. And, there was only a small audience of 60 people, all vaccinated.

As you might suspect, a marriage to a gay man in the early 20th Century was fraught with problems. Pappas explains why her marriage to Cole Porter–with its ups and downs–thrilled her. When she sings those classic Cole Porter songs, she captures the emotions of that stage in her story. If Love, Linda shows up in your neighborhood, I highly recommend you see it! Are you a Cole Porter fan? GRADE: A

SET LIST:

1.“Opening: When A Woman’s In Love (Theme)/So In Love/What Is This Thing Called Love?Cole Porter5:58
2.“Ours”Cole Porter2:25
3.I Love ParisCole Porter3:58
4.Miss Otis RegretsCole Porter2:14
5.“The Scampi”Cole Porter2:33
6.In the Still of the NightCole Porter3:49
7.“Ours (Reprise)”Cole Porter1:18
8.“Medley”Cole Porter2:28
9.“Let’s Be Buddies”Cole Porter2:18
10.Ridin’ HighCole Porter3:04
11.Love for SaleCole Porter2:38
12.My Heart Belongs to DaddyCole Porter2:55
13.“Throwing A Ball Tonight”Cole Porter3:15
14.Night And Day/There’s A Hollywood That’s GoodCole Porter1:27
15.WunderbarCole Porter2:36
16.“When A Woman’s in Love”Cole Porter

BARBARIANS OF THE BEYOND By Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes’s new authorized sequel-cum-companion novel to Jack Vance’s classic The Demon Princes series, Barbarians of the Beyond, will be available from Spatterlight Press and online retailers on August 1, 2021. The ebook version will be available from AMAZON soon!

Barbarians of the Beyond is NOT the further adventures of Kirth Gerson (who is only referred to obliquely), but a companion novel set during the time frame of the first two novels in The Demon Princes series: The Star King  and The Killing Machine (both published in 1964).

Hughes’s strategy of returning to the scene of the crime that launched Kirth Gerson on a five book vengeance odyssey is bold and innovative. And Hughes’s choice of heroine, Morwen Sabine, whose parents were taken during the Mount Pleasant raid ratchets up the suspense. What is Morwen’s plan? Why is she putting herself in grave danger? And what secret is Morwen hiding?

Five master criminals known as the Demon Princes raided the peaceful community of Mount Pleasant to loot and to carry off its five thousand inhabitants into bondage in the lawless Beyond. Twenty-five years later, Morwen Sabine, daughter of two of the Mount Pleasant citizens turned into slaves, manages to escape her cruel master in the Beyond. Questions remain about Morwen’s risky decision to go to Mount Pleasant instead of safer parts of The Oikumene,

Morwen finds Mount Pleasant has changed in the twenty-five years since the raid. Morwen discovers she has to deal with mystic cultists, murderous drug-smugglers, and undercover “weasels” of the Interplanetary Police Coordinating Company in order to survive.

Still more threatening to Morwen are the deadly henchmen of the vicious pirate lord who owns her parents and wants Morwen returned – so he can torture and kill her slowly. If you’re a fan of Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes series, you’ll enjoy Matthew Hughes’s brilliant sequel, Barbarians of the Beyond. Let’s hope this is just the first of a new series! GRADE: A

TED LASSO [Apple TV]

When we were in Boston visiting Patrick and Katie last week, we visited Katie’s condo. While she was baking a strawberry/apple pie and a lemon/coconut cake (lactose-free), Diane and I watched Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. Katie recommended it and that was enough for us.

Ted Lasso is a 10-episode series featuring Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach who knows almost zilch about soccer who is hired to coach a struggling professional European soccer team. I knew nothing about Ted Lasso before I started watching this “fish-out-of-water” comedy, but within a few minutes I knew I was watching something Special!

Ted Lasso enjoys brilliant casting. Hannah Waddingham plays the new owner of the AFC Richmond soccer team. Hannah has just divorced Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head), her cheating ex-husband and the former owner of AFC Richmond. Jeremy Swift plays Leslie Higgins, the sycophantic Director of Football Operations. Brendan Hunt plays Coach Beard, Lasso’s taciturn long-time assistant and friend.

Nick Mohammed is terrific as Nathan Shelley, the team’s former kit man-turned assistant coach who lacks confidence but knows a lot about soccer. My favorite character–other than Ted Lasso–is Juno Temple‘s  portrayal of Keeley Jones, a model who works for AFC Richmond. She’s smart and sassy! 

Jason Sudeikis expands on the character he developed in a series of promos for NBC Sports‘ coverage of the Premier League. Sudeikis’s Ted Lasso might not know much about soccer, but he does know a lot about coaching and leadership.

Last week, Ted Lasso scored 20 Emmy nominations—the most ever for a rookie comedy series. The Second Season of Ted Lasso started on Friday, July 23, 2021. You’re going to love Ted Lasso! GRADE: A

BLACK WIDOW

Black Widow is the first in-theater movie we’ve seen since the Pandemic started. Diane, Katie, and I went to a Regal Theater in Boston and socially distanced along with about a dozen other members of the audience (the theater had 200 seats).

I love Scarlett Johansson so I wanted to see her origin story as Avenger Natasha Romanoff. Johansson’s character has no superpowers, but she is extremely smart and athletic.

Part of the problem with Black Widow is that it’s set in the Marvel Universe Timeline just after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Unfortunately, [SPOILER ALERT!] we know Natasha Romanoff dies in Avengers: Endgame [END OF SPOILER].

Directed by Cate Shortland, the movie’s plot moves around the globe. Jackie Schaeffer, Ned Benson, and Eric Pearson’s script tries to connect all the dots in Natasha Romanoff’s life, but there’s a lot to cover. From Ohio, to the secret RED ROOM, to Norway, to Budapest, to a prison in Siberia, Black Widow feels more like a Bourne movie than a MARVEL movie.

I liked Yelena (Florence Pugh), Natasha’s long-lost sister. I liked Rachel Weisz as Natasha’s “Mother” and David Harbour as her “Father.” General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) is an effective villain.

But, despite a solid cast and plenty of action, I found Black Widow disappointing. A cameo of Iron Man or Doctor Strange would have been great! Instead, we get an unbelievable (and I use that adjective deliberately) last 15 minutes where the action defies physics. Even the CGI could not save that mess.

So I’m back to seeing movies in theaters–I’m still wearing a mask. I still hope the upcoming MARVEL movies are better. And, I hope Scarlett Johansson’s character somehow gets reincarnated. GRADE: B-

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #650: THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS By Christopher Fowler

Little did I know when Patti Abbott invited me to join her Friday’s Forgotten Books group back in 2009 that 650 posts later, I’d still be writing about Forgotten Books and forgotten authors (you can read my first FFB post here).

I decided to commemorate this milestone by choosing Christopher Fowler’s aptly titled book: The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017). I picked Fowler’s book because I rediscovered it on my shelves when I was looking for volumes in Fowler’s Bryant & May Peculiar Crimes Unit series. And, I was looking for the Bryant & May books because Rick Robinson’s wonderful reviews (you can read them here, here, and here) motivated me to read a series I’ve been collecting–but not reading–for many years (the story of my Life…).

I’m a sucker for books like The Book of Forgotten Authors. It’s a browsers delight! And, it has generated a whole list of books that I’ll be searching for.

I want to thank all of you who have followed my FFB reviews for 12 years. I hope to continue to contribute FFB reviews for many more years. How many of these authors are you familiar with? GRADE: A

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Why are good authors forgotten? — 1
1. Margery Allingham — 5
2. Virginia Andrews — 8
3. Charlotte Armstrong — 11
4. Frank Baker — 15
5. R.M. Ballantyne — 18
6. Alexander Baron — 21
7. Peter Barnes — 24
8. Lesley Blanch — 27
9. Kyril Bonfiglioli — 30
The forgotten Disney connection — 33
10. Earnest Bornemann — 38
11. Pierre Boulle — 41
12. Mary Elizabeth Braddon — 44
13. Caryl Brahms — 47
14. Pamela Branch — 49
15. Brigid Brophy — 52
16. Thomas Burke — 55
17. Dino Buzzati — 57
18. Patricia Carlon — 60
19. Barbara Comyns Carr — 62
The Forgotten (pre-Tarantino) pulp fiction — 64
20. John Dickson Carr — 68
21. Leslie Charteris — 71
22. John Christopher — 74
23. John Collier — 77
24. Norman Collins — 80
25. Richard Condon — 84
26. Edmund Crispin — 87
27. E.M. Delafield — 90
28. Patrick Dennis — 93
29. Raymond Durgnat — 95
The forgotten rivals of Holmes, Bond and Miss Marple — 98
30. Rosalind Erskine — 102
21. Dr. Christopher Evans — 110
32. Jack Finney — 113
33. Ronald Firbank — 116
34. Peter Fleming — 120
35. Lucille Fletcher — 122
36. R. Austin Freeman — 124
37. Michael Green — 127
38. Peter Van Greenaway — 130
The forgotten books of Charles Dickens — 133
39. Robert Van Gulik — 137
40. Thomas Guthrie — 140
41. Charles Hamilton — 143
42. James Hanley — 145
43. Sven Hassel — 148
44. A.P. Herbert — 151
45. Georgette Heyer — 154
46. Eleanor Hibbert — 157
47. Harry Hodge — 160
48. Sheila Hodgetts — 161
The forgotten queens of suspense — 166
49. Polly Hope — 175
50. Richard Hughes — 180
51. Graham Joyce — 182
52. Robert Klane — 185
53. Thomas Nigel Kneale — 188
54. Ronald Knox — 191
55. Gavin Lambert — 194
56. George Langelaan — 197
The forgotten nonsense writers — 200
57. Noel Langley — 206
58. Marghanita Laski — 209
59. Michael McDowell — 212
60. John McGlashan — 215
61. Juliane Maclaren-Ross — 218
62. Richard Marsh — 220
63. Arthur Mee — 222
64. Gustav Meyer — 226
65. Margaret Millar — 229
The forgotten Booker authors — 232
66. Clifford Mills — 236
67. Gladys Mitchell — 239
68. Brian Moore — 242
70. Peter Nichols — 244
71. Bill Naughton — 247
72. Emma Orczy — 250
73. Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett — 254
74. Thomas Love Peacock — 256
Forgotten for writing too little and too much — 259
75. Joyce Porter — 266
76. David Pownall — 268
77. Philippa Pullar — 271
78. Barbara Pym — 274
79. Richard Quittenton — 276
80. T. Lobsang Rampa — 278
81. Simon Raven — 281
82. Maurice Richardson — 284
The rediscovered forgotten authors — 287
83. Arnold Ridley — 294
84. Tom Robbins — 296
85. Cynthia Propper Seton — 299
86. Idries Shah — 301
87. Richard Shaver — 304
88. Matthew Phipps Shiel — 307
89. Peter Tinniswood — 309
Lost in translation: the forgotten world authors — 312
90. Thomas Tryon — 319
91. Arthur Upfield — 321
92. Edgar Wallace — 324
93. James Redding Ware — 327
94. Keith Waterhouse — 327
95. Winifred Watson — 330
The justly forgotten authors — 337
96. Dennis Wheatley — 343
97. T.H. White — 346
98. Kathleen Winsor — 349
99. Cornell Woolrich — 352
The last word — 355

Acknowledgements — 359

Index — 361

Where Were All The BAME Writers? — 373

100. William Melvin Kelley — 377