Literary Review

The Frustratingly Unique Ian Dury

dury_coverIan Dury: The Definitive Biography
by Will Birch (Sidgwick & Jackson)

Ian Dury was a tremendously English composite whose success against the odds of unlikelihood and disability remains a lasting example of what a determined soul can manage to attain. Ten years after his death, at the age of fifty seven, he has been the subject of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a frantically chaotic bio-pic that gives a good thumbnail portrait of a life of immense complexity and contradiction, but misses out on many of the finer points which go a long way to explaining Dury's disparate nature. Read more »

With Love Despite Winter

a-cold-snapCold Snap
by Francis King (Arcadia)

Love stirs in circumstances unlikely to allow its survival. The more the odds stack up against a happy conclusion, the greater the effort the star-crossed undertake to prove the validity of their feelings. Cold Snap is a novel set in a particular winter, 1947, in the refined and snowy setting of Oxford, but one under which the long shadow of the Second World War stretches across that idyllic whiteness. Read more »

The Empty Promise of Sundays

kathleen_farrellTake It to Heart
by Kathleen Farrell (Rupert Hart Davis)

If Kathleen Farrell's first novel, Mistletoe Malice, was a dissection of the dreaded and dreadful family Christmas, her second, Take It To Heart (1953), was a none-too-flattering stab at the motivations and mechanics of love. Hers was not Valentines and flowers, nor the happy-ever-after appropriation of feelings. It is a world driven by need, insecurity, and the wish for control. Love is a condition, but is rarely conditional. A myriad of impulses, far removed from sententious versions of the real, in which she drafts a series of relationships, none of which could be described as fair, balanced, or emotionally genuine, but which drive their perpetrators to distraction and despair. Read more »

The Garbo of the Printed Word: J. D. Salinger 1919-2010

jd-salinger.jpgFor an author who published little, J. D. Salinger had immense influence on successive generations. His literary creation Holden Caulfield became the American Everyboy, a Huckleberry Finn for baby boomers and beyond. Salinger succeeded in encapsulating adolescent distance from the adult world. It was a literary feat he seemed incapable or reluctant to repeat. Secretive to the point of paranoia, he became a brooding, beguiling enigma, a one-book wonder, the Garbo of the printed word. Read more »

J.D. Salinger R.I.P. 1/1/1919 - 1/27/2010

young_salingerHe made it to 91. Now begins the drum beat -- recluse, Catcher in the Rye author, are there hidden manuscripts? Let the poor guy rest in peace. Forget Catcher, get out Nine Stories; if you can't read the entire thing cover to cover, immediately read "For Esme...," "Uncle Wiggley," "Teddy," (forget "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"!), and my personal favorite, "The Laughing Man." Then go through everything from Franny and Zoe, and give yourself a treat with the magisterial Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. Then, we'll talk. J. D., wherever you are, thank you. - Ken Krimstein Ken.jpg

Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.
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The Lingering Echoes of a Singular Evening

kathleen_farrellThe Cost of Living
by Kathleen Farrell (Macmillan)

Having successfully laid bare the machinations of what love is to many in her previous novel, Take It To Heart, one could have expected Farrell to have continued with the same astute intensity. Instead, in 1956 she delivered the breezy The Cost of Living, a colorful, deceptively simple affair, its lightness of touch belying a certainty of purpose in presenting an apparently scatty arrangement of existence and the echoes of a singular evening. Seldom can appearances have been so delightfully deceptive, and although the flippant undertone never quite deserts these pages, the tone darkens gradually and imperceptibly, in the way an afternoon slips into night. Read more »

Hurling Abuse

og-cusack-bookCome What May
by Donal Og Cusack (Penguin Ireland)

The death of Stephen Gately rang out the bells of irony, but their chimes were absent from the mournful proceedings in Dublin. What occurred amounted to a state funeral, in a Catholic country. The deceased, an openly gay, married pop star, was given respect, the kind of respect he would still have been denied had he not been famous. Ireland pretends to be a modernist state, but the Catholic Church still casts a disquieting shadow over the lives of those of whom it disapproves. Read more »

A Character As Reliable As the Internet

undiscovered-gyrl-jktUndiscovered Gyrl

by Allison Burnett (Vintage)

The gimmick of e-mail novels was spawned about five minutes after the birth of e-mail itself. Blog novels? Every other new novelist these days is a blogger, or birthed their idea on a blog. Which is why Allison Burnett's new book, Undiscovered Gyrl, is actually so welcome. It doesn't use blogging as a gimmick, it uses it as a setting. Like London to Dickens, or the Mississippi River to Twain, that vague "place" we all inhabit known as cyberspace is where this book lives. Read more »

In Homage to the Sorrows: Jim Carroll 1949-2009

jim-carrollRock and roll poets are few and far between, and the modifier suggests something less than the genuine article, someone who would never be courted by the literary world, a maverick imposter in the hallowed house of words. Jim Carroll was that rare, exotic creature, a rock interloper whose talent could not be airily dismissed. A lauded contradiction who was equally at home in a rock band and a literary salon. He had also been a budding basketball player, the handsome embodiment of the American dream, but Carroll's early sporting promise took a turn towards darkness. He would never really emerge from these shadows, but that made him the Rimbaud of Manhattan and beyond. Read more »

The End Is the Beginning

lennon-nycHarold Norse 1916-2009

Some writers put their effort into living, while others strive to leave much work behind. Beat poet Harold Norse knew the literary giants of several generations and lived long and well, leaving only a few fine books as evidence. He has cameo roles in the lives of, amongst many, W.H Auden, William Carlos Williams, Paul Bowles, James Baldwin, and Tennessee Williams. His handsome presence will continue to slip between the pages of their lives as long as they are written about. Read more »

A Strange Democracy: Frank McCourt 1930-2009

frank-mccourtAlthough Frank McCourt will be remembered as a writer, that career, begun in retirement, eclipsed his lifetime's labours as a teacher in New York. His memoir of a flea- and rat-infested childhood in 1930s Limerick, Angela's Ashes, seemed to annotate an earlier, Dickensian kind of poverty, and was largely responsible foe the industry known as "the misery memoir." His was the first, but few that followed in his wake were as refined, and as eloquent, as his particular distillation.

In a debut, unflinching and unrelenting, the classic combination is harnessed. A down-trodden Irish mother, a drunken patriotic father, dead infant siblings, and the uncaring influence of the Catholic church. Read more »

Jazz Words & Images

Bisceglia_DalachinskyReaching into the Unknown 1964-2009
by Jacques Bisceglia/Steve Dalachinsky (RogueArt)

French jazz label RogueArt, which has issued twenty CDs, has branched out into jazz books. The first was Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue, an interesting little volume wherein poet/critic Steve Dalachinsky interviewed avant-jazz pianist Matthew Shipp about the philosophical/spiritual underpinnings of his creativity (with photos by Lorna Lentini). Dalachinsky's second project with RogueArt is way bigger, a 429-page collaboration mixing poetry and photography. Read more »

Cross-Cultural Collisions

Waguih_GhaliAfter a Funeral
by Diana Athill (Ticknor & Fields)

Beer in the Snooker Club
by Waguih Ghali (New Amsterdam Books)

Diana Athill turned 91 on December 21, became an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List, and were that not compliment enough has now been announced as the deserving recipient of the Costa Award for Biography for her astute account of the progress of age Somewhere Towards the End. Read more »

Highs and Highs


Jean Jacques Sempe

Sweetness is poison. There is probably not a more horrible epithet to throw at any modern artist -- in any field. The word conjures up fields of Hallmark sentiments draped in saccharine emotion and as light as a souffle rapidly collapsing. In short, sweetness sucks. Big time. Read more »

Beyond The Pomp: Sir Reresby Sitwell 1927-2009

Sir Reresby_SitwellThe passing of Sir Reresby Sitwell brings to a close one of the most eccentric and diverting chapters of English lives and letters. His father Sacheverell, his Uncle Osbert and Aunt Edith were considered outlandlish heretics in the 1920's, that generation's equivalent of literary punks. Their patronage of the young composer William Walton resulted in 'Facade' which consisted of Edith reciting her uniquely eclectic verses through a megaphone as Walton's music skipped and shimmered, the first performance of which ended in an actual riot of disapproval. Read more »

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