As some readers of this column may know, I have spent the past six weeks in Europe, specifically the British Isles and Italy. Below is an accounting, by way of lists and some short reviews, of books carried here, bought here, read here, and left here.
In recent years, literary works that are classified as “investigative reporting” have not only become best sellers, but have lingered on the shelves for decades. Examples are Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter-Skelter. All were in-depth non-fiction works that go under the classification of “crime fiction.”
So, Scout (Jean Louise) comes back home to Maycomb — where “everyone is either kin or almost kin”— at age 26 and after being “away” and living in New York City for several years. Sixteen years have gone by since we last heard from her in the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Maycomb she comes home to isn’t the same Maycomb we know from the 1960 novel.
When we think of American writers living and working overseas, most of us turn to those authors who lived in Paris. We recollect Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, that fine account of his life in Paris in the 1920s; we imagine Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald making the rounds to such bars as La Rotonde and Les Deux Magots; we conjure up Gertrude Stein; we think of Sylvia Beach’s bookshop Shakespeare & Co., later brought back to life by George Whitman. We think of Henry Miller drifting in Paris in the 1930s and of writers from the 1950s and 1960s like James Jones and James Baldwin.
I have been waiting for this book for a long time. Back in 1978, I read Falling Angel, which was that rare thing, a dark blend of noir/thriller and the occult. I read it several times, and it seemed to get better each time. It was made into a pretty decent film, “Angel Heat,” which had two of my favorite actors, Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet.
Haworth, West Riding of Yorkshire, England.
It’s 4:30 in the morning, Sunday June 18, and I stood a few moments ago on the cobbled street outside the Old White Line Inn. I slept poorly; the gentleman in Room 12 across the hall wakened me with ursine snoring, and “nature’s soft nurse” left the room. Grabbing my computer bag, I headed to the hotel lobby, where only the ticking of the clock in the hall interrupts the stillness.
I have always been a Russell Banks fan, and when I look back over the last 40 years, he has always been there with memorable portraits of flawed but unforgettable people — all products (or victims) of American culture. I remember his treatment of John Brown, a historic figure that Banks recently called “America’s first terrorist” (Cloudsplitter).
About two months ago, I began culling books from my shelves. I live in an apartment with several thousand books, most on shelves, some stacked in closets, some thrust under beds or packed in a storage space in boxes. This weeding-out was, as usual, neither orderly nor effective. Even a casual observer of my rooms would note no difference in the number of books.
Some 30 years ago, I saw a disturbing film entitled “Koyaanisqatsi.” The title comes from a Hopi word meaning “unbalanced life.” Essentially, this film (which has no dialogue) consisted of disturbing images of our planet: abandoned cities, vistas of barren earth and surreal sequences in which our technology seemed out of control. When people appeared in the film, they seemed lonely, trapped and irrelevant.
In the last decade, British authorities uncovered evidence of massive sexual abuse and human trafficking in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Two years ago, in a blistering investigative report, Professor Alexis Jay and her committee conservatively estimated that 1,400 English girls had been sexually abused or traded for goods and favors by a network of older men, mostly British-Pakistani Muslims. The committee charged both police and social workers with negligence and in some cases, with deliberately overlooking the sexual assaults for fear of offending minority communities. Further investigations revealed other communities where such abuse was either ignored or unreported.