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October 13th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Autumn and the Little Red Lighthouse Festival 2014, an Ideal Combination

Brisk winds and the aftermath of a rainy Friday night didn’t dampen the fun at the 22nd annual Little Red Lighthouse Festival this past Saturday, held on the grounds under the George Washington Bridge, aka the great gray bridge, near the Little Red Lighthouse, the last beacon light to shine in Manhattan. I have written about the landmark several times in recent years, including after I attended last year’s fall festival. The Parks Dept opens the lighthouse to visitors on these occasions, allowing New Yorkers to fully appreciate this splendid example of maritime architecture. After I toured the lighthouse last year, I wrote about its history and the children’s book that improbably helped to keep it standing on the shore of the Hudson: LRLH books

“If you’ve never had a close-up view of [the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse] and aren’t certain where they are or how to see them for yourself, we’re talking about upper Manhattan on the island’s west side roughly level with what would be West 178th Street and the Hudson River. I get there on my bike, pedaling on good pavement alongside the river most of the way from my neighborhood around West 100th Street and Riverside Drive. The area can also be reached from Washington Heights, near 181st Street, and in both cases it’s accessible to walkers as well as cyclists. The forty-foot tall lighthouse–whose exterior is dotted with porthole windows and decked out in bright red enameled paint with a white cone and clear glass at the top–sits below the lower deck of the bridge, close to the monumental steel foot of the span’s eastern arch. According to a NYC Parks Dept web page, the two structures became most indelibly linked in the public imagination in the early 1940s, and even earlier in the city’s maritime history. Here’s a lightly edited version of the Parks Dept. article:

‘In the early 20th century, barge captains carrying goods up and down the Hudson demanded a brighter beacon. The [lighthouse] had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1,000 pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled [but not destroyed or discarded] in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffrey’s Hook [future site of the George Washington Bridge] in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse, then known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse [the name since the early 1800s for the shelf of Manhattan schist that juts out in to the river right there], was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete. In 1948, the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and its lamp was extinguished.

‘The Coast Guard planned to auction off the lighthouse, but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until a great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. The classic tale captured the imaginations of children and adults, many of whom wrote letters and sent money to help save the icon from the auction block.’

The Parks’ web page adds that in 1951 the Coast Guard gave the lighthouse and grounds to the City, and in 1979 the Little Red Lighthouse was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Refurbishments took place in 1986, when on the 65th anniversary the concrete foundation was restored, and in 2000 when it was repainted, true to its original shade of red.

In a real sense, the persistence of the lighthouse on the Manhattan shoreline is a product of one of the first episodes of “historic preservation” in the modern history of New York City. Too often, the city and posterity have been the loser in those battles, such as what occurred in 1963, when–unaccountably to current-day New Yorkers–the old Penn Station was torn down.”

I will add that it’s a great time for parks and historic sites in New York City, with such projects as the ongoing restoration of High Bridge, the footbridge that’s connected the Bronx and Manhattan since 1842, though it’s been derelict and off-limits to hikers for many years. Also heartening was the news last week that more than $130 million will be spent to upgrade and renovate thirty-five NYC parks that have historically been neglected, even while better known parks, like Central Park and Prospect Park, garner lots of resources.

I didn’t enter the Little Red Lighthouse on Saturday, as the line was long and I was glad to let others see it for the first time. I was just happy to walk the grounds and stop at the booths of several upper Manhattan organizations and businesses. Among these was the NYC Parks Dept, which sent several urban rangers to staff an information table; Summer on the Hudson, @summeronthehudson on Twitter, whose director Zhen Heinemann was on hand making sure everything ran smoothly; Word Up Books, “a completely volunteer run community bookshop,  and arts space in Washington Heights,” on Amsterdam Ave at 165th Street, near the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest wooden structure in Manhattan, built in 1765; graphic artist Norman Ibarra, who was selling a handsome poster he’s designed, printed on quality paper, that shows the seven lighthouses along the Hudson River, upstate from Athens and Saugerties south toward Manhattan and Jersey City; the National Lighthouse Museum, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal, whose representatives told me about the hoped-for restoration of the Old Orchard Beach lighthouse, wrecked during Hurricane Sandy; and Anthi’s Greek Specialities, a food vendor that was selling tasty spinach pie and baklava. Along with the above Facebook post I sent out that afternoon, I took lots of pictures during the festivities. Here are the best of them.

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October 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions

First Reviews of THE BIG BOOK OF SWASHBUCKLING ADVENTURE: “An Excellent Read” & “A Brilliant Selection of Dash, Pluck, Skill, Yearning, and Fortune.”

And now the second pre-publication review is in for The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, selected and introduced by my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, another very positive notice. It comes from Publishers Weekly, who commissioned author William Dietrich to review the anthology. Dietrich’s piece closes with this encomium: “Ellsworth offers the reader an excellent and entertaining survey of the genre’s roots, a brilliant selection of dash, pluck, skill, yearning, and fortune.” See below for more details on the book, and the first review, which came in last week. Thanks to Pegasus Books for preparing the handsome edition and congrats to editor Lawrence Ellsworth. There will be finished copies of the book in November. It’s setting up very nicely!

I first posted about this book project when I began presenting it to publishers in March 2013, and am delighted that Pegasus Books acquired it. They’re an independent press whose titles are sold to bookstores by W.W. Norton. Pegasus has done a great job getting the anthology ready for publication. You can see their catalog listing for the book via this link (or in the screenshot below). Yesterday, I was delighted to see the first review of it, by Cindy A. Matthews at Authorlink, which I quickly shared in its entirety on Facebook (embedded below). In the catalog copy, you’ll note an interesting sidelight about my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, who conceived of the anthology, selected all the pieces, wrote the introductions, and translated the Alexander Dumas selection that’s in the book: he was an original team member of the group that created the legendary role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. The oversized quality paperback, illustrated with art from the heady period when these stories were originally published, between the 1870s-1920s, will make a great holiday gift. Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure Pegasus catalog

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October 3rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Working with Authors, in to Their 100s

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September 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

One More Time—A Happy Hobbit Birthday!

I published the piece below two years ago on this date, my birthday. I’m happy to share it here again today, as I turn 60!

As this day, September 22, 2012, stretches toward midnight, it happens to have been my 58th birthday. Growing up, of course I always enjoyed this day, but as I prepared to turn 13 back in 1967, my appreciation of my own birthday had taken a new turn. For earlier that year I first read the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and discovered that all the key action in The Hobbit, and the first book of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was triggered at the birthday parties of Bilbo Baggins,and his nephew Frodo Baggins. And for reasons unknown to me—and so far as I know, never analyzed in all the criticism on Tolkien and Middle Earth—the birthday of uncle and nephew Baggins was September 22. The sharing of my birthday with the brave and indefatigable hobbits was a source of great strength to me during my adolescence. When difficult times arose, I took comfort in the knowledge that I had some sort of kinship with the creative imaginings of such a great writer as Tolkien. His books have been with me at many junctures in my life. Seeing Tolkien’s hobbit protagonists at the center of his sagas made me believe I could be at the center of my own life narrative.

I’ve always liked the fact that the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, falls around roughly the same time as my birthday. This year it was just last week. I like that the new year is said to begin in autumn–counter-intuitively–just as life in nature is beginning to fade and die. It sobers one up a bit, reminding us all that we’re not here forever. I don’t need too much reminding of that fact, in as much as starting in my late 30s I lost my father, then in my 40s, two best friends from college—Rob Adams and Karl Petrovich—and in my 50s, my mom and then my brother, Joel. Still, it seems salutary to take note of the leaves falling just as we prepare the turn of another year, as well as the turn from summer into fall.

With Tolkien in mind, my observance of my own birthday this year got off to a good start yesterday when I saw in Shelf Awareness, the bookselling daily e-newsletter, that Tolkien’s US publisher is publishing a new edition of The Hobbit, tying in with Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” prequel, premiering December 14. When the movie opens in a few months, I’ll sort of feel as if it’s almost again, albeit out of season. Meantime, today’s been a good day, thanks to family, friends, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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September 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Amazon’s Douglas Preston Problem Isn’t Going Away

It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon’s board members respond to Authors United’s outreach to them—if at all—particularly the suggestion that while these people may think they joined the board of a progressive company, that’s actually not what Amazon is any more, if they ever were.

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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Sept 12–George C. Chesbro’s “City of Whispering Stone,” w/Mongo the Magnificent

City of Whispering Stone frontContinuing my theme from last week, today’s #FridayReads is another mystery featuring Mongo the Magnificent, former circus dwarf turned criminology professor and private eye, in City of Whispering Stone, published in 1978, which I read that year, then ordered and sold in my bookstore, Undercover Books in Cleveland, Ohio. The plot of this novel—Book II in a series that would ultimately have fifteen titles—would have been very topical and timely at the time, as it concerns Iranian students in NYC, an Iranian circus strongman who is a member of the troupe that Mongo once performed in as a headliner, and the political fate of the Shah. In real life, this would have been during the Carter administration and amid the tumultuous revolution that ended with Ayatollah Khomeni and the mullahs in control of the country,when American hostages were held captive for 444 days in Tehran. The mullahs have hold power ever since. Chesbro must’ve had a keen line in to the Iranian expat community in the US, because of the depiction of the dissident students reads like a contemporary dispatch from the New York Times. In the novel, the performer/strongman has mysteriously vanished and Phil Statler, impresario of the Statler Brothers Circus, Mongo’s former boss, hires the detective to locate him. The writing is great—noirish and tough, and very good at revealing the mindset of Mongo, an ultimate outsider who’s never fit in anywhere in his whole life. Back in my bookstore days, I never read beyond the earliest books in the series, so in the weeks to come, I’ll go back in the sequence and re-read Shadow of a Broken Man (1977, Book I), then move on to An Affair of Sorcerers (1979, Book III); and The Beasts of Valhallah (1985, Book IV), and perhaps others.

I do relish reading detective fiction and many different mystery series. As readers here may recall, I’ve written before about the novels of Michael Connelly (who created series character LAPD Detective Harry—short for Hieronymous—Bosch); Henning Mankell (Swedish police lieutenant Kurt Wallander); the late Tony Hillerman (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee), whose series was revived in 2013 by his daughter, novelist Anne Hillerman, introducing new series character, Bernadette Manuelito; Philip Kerr (Munich police inspector Bernie Gunther); John D. MacDonald (salvage expert Travis McGee); and J. Michael Orenduff (author of the POT THIEF mystery series, with protagonist Hubert Schuze, dealer in Native American ceramics). Last year, I wrote an appreciation of one of Mankell’s Wallander books that can just as well apply to all of these series, edited for inclusion in this post:

Henning Mankell’s thriller 2004 thriller Before the Frost, features Detective Kurt Wallander and his grown daughter Linda, who like he had earlier in life, elects to become a police officer. With surprising synchronicity, in Michael Connelly’s Detective Harry Bosch novel The Drop, (my May 10th, 2013 #FridayReads), his young adult daughter informs him that she is going to choose police work for her career. I don’t believe these two writers, one in Sweden, the other in Los Angeles, read each other’s work or have directly influenced each other. Instead, I believe that these authors—who have each written ten or more books featuring their detective protagonist—become extremely invested in their characters and loyal to them, so that in their protean creativity, they endow the two characters—both late middle-aged single fathers—with full lives and late-in-life-joy from growing closer to their children. This highlights one of the things I love most about these books, Mankell’s and Connelly’s, as well as mysteries by other authors I enjoy, featuring characters Travis McGee, Bernie Gunther, and Joe Gunther (no relation to the former), by John D. MacDonaldPhilip Kerr, and Archer Mayor, respectively: The author is so devoted to their creation that they give them full lives, and I as a faithful reader, become devoted to them, too.

City of Whispering Stone back

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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

Herbert Lottman, RIP, an American Man of Letters in France

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September 5th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Sept 5–George C. Chesbro’s “In the House of Enemies,” w/Mongo the Magnificent

Mongo cover#FridayReads—In the House of Secret Enemies by George C. Chesbro, ten short stories featuring one of the all-time greatest detective series characters, Mongo the Magnificent, aka Robert Frederickson, Ph.D.—former headlining acrobat performer for the Statler Bros Circus; black belt in karate; criminology professor at a New York City university; and dwarf. I found this mass-market paperback, a 1990 Mysterious Press edition, when I browsed and shopped at Myopic Books on Milwaukee Ave in Chicago last month, a great second-hand store with a really extensive inventory. The collection also includes a revealing intro by Chesbro, “The Birth of a Series Character,” explaining how he came to dream up the character of Mongo, and how he persevered despite little encouragement from editors, at least at the beginning. After the intro, Chesbro offers notes before each tale explaining the role that the story played in his ongoing development of the character. These stories were all written before he dared put Mongo in a full-length novel—hell, before he even knew if he could write a Mongo novel, and whether the emerging character could bear the weight of a full-length book, leave alone find it accepted by a publisher—so each of these stories was a key experiment in character creation and development. The collection is full of great writing and shop-talk. I read the first few Mongo novels when I operated my bookstore, Undercover Books, but haven’t read one in many years. I love mystery series publishing, with so many great and memorable characters, such as Michael Connelly’s LAPD detective Harry Bosch, Archer Mayor’s Vermont police detective Joe Gunther, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache, and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. Now, I gotta find more of Chesbro’s Mongo titles, which combine two of my favorite enthusiasms—the circus and detective fiction! For more info on Mongo and Chesbro—who died, sadly, in 2008, but was around long enough to republish many of the fifteen Mongo titles in POD editions under his own Apache Beach imprint—I suggest you visit the author’s Wikipedia page and this site, Dangerous Dwarf.

Mongo back cover

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