#FridayReads–Barry Lancet’s Thriller, “Japantown” & Dan Richter’s “The Dream is Over,” Memoir of the 60s

Japantown#FridayReads, Jan 31–Barry Lancet’s thriller, Japantown and Dan Richter’s The Dream is Over, a memoir of the 60s.

I’d made Japantown my #FridayReads last weekend, when I had read only about 140 pages of the nearly 400-page fast-paced international thriller. The rest of the book was every bit as riveting, and overall, hugely enjoyable. I liked it so much that, on Wednesday night, heading out to hear live music–I stowed the hardcover book in my knapsack, along with my handy bike flashlight–and read deep in to its last chapters between sets in the dimly lit music room at Pianos, inching toward the suspenseful climax which I reached the following morning. Here’s an abbreviated version of the plot rundown from my post last week:

“The book is at first set in San Francisco where protagonist Jim Brodie works as a dealer in Asian antiquities, while also maintaining connections with the private detective agency his late father founded and ran in Tokyo. Brodie’s widowed, a single dad living with his grade school-age daughter, Jenny. Brodie is the new go-to-guy when the San Francisco Police Department find itself investigating a grisly mass murder with Japanese victims and Japanese cultural characteristics. At the crime scene, Brodie finds only one clue, a paper artifact emblazoned with an obscure written character (kanji in Japanese). Brodie doesn’t realize, though the reader sees, that even as he surveys the scene of the brutal killing he and his Homicide Dept confidant are being surveilled with lenses and cameras by unknown agents. Though not understanding the full extent of the danger he’s in, Brodie senses he’s being watched, at his gallery and even at home with Jenny. With the obscure kanji in hand, Brodie undertakes an investigative trip to Japan, first putting Jenny in to the protective embrace of a police safe house. Once in Japan, the malign forces behind the killings begin taking aim at Brodie and his trusted Japanese colleagues.”

Good set-up, huh? Trust me, it’s much more exciting than my synopsis. After finishing Lancet’s totally satisfying thriller, I’m really excited he’s working on another book set in Jim Brodie’s world.

After finishing Japantown, I needed a nonfiction tonic and so picked up  The Dream is Over, Dan Richter’s personal account of London in the ’60s, his friendship with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and his struggles with addiction. Richter’s book, released in hardcover in Britain in 2012, carries a Foreword by Yoko. I met Dan in the early 2000s, when I edited and published his first book Moonwatcher’s Memoir–A Diary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dan was in his twenties, working as a mime actor, when Stanley Kubrick–searching for the right sort of performer to play the role of the marauding ape wielding a club in the opening scene of the 1968 intergalactic time travel epic–met Dan and cast him in the part. Working with Dan, I learned that he’d met Yoko in the ’60s through his theater work and her early works of performance art. Later, he would meet John Lennon through Yoko. His verbal accounts of those years were fascinating to hear about, so I’m delighted he’s written this second memoir. It focuses on 1969-73, when he was living in London, putting on poetry readings at the Albert Hall, and running with a literary set that included Alan Ginsberg, during his frequent visits to London, and Beat writer Alexander Trocchi, a bad-boy Scotsman who wrote Cain’s Book, a notorious and transgressive book in its time. Dan recently got in touch and asked if I might be able to help him find a US publisher for The Dream is Over, so I’m reading it as work and for the welcome evocation of a rich era that it paints. Characters who walk in and out of the narrative include Eric Clapton, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, the rebel psychiatrist R.D. Laing, members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I don’t know yet about the prospects for finding a US publisher, but I’m glad to be reading the book. I’ll try to post more about it once I’ve read more. The flap copy promises an intimate account of the making of the album “Imagine.”Moonwatcher's Memoir
Dream is Over

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s Visionary Novel “The Rowan Tree”

Rowan Tree cover

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s The Rowan Tree

In 2011-12 one of the most enjoyable assignments I undertook was the editing of the manuscript of The Rowan Tree, a novel by noted thinker Robert W. Fuller.

Though I last worked on it a year ago, I’m writing about it today because I recently received a copy of the printed book from the author, and have been dipping in to it again, relishing the formal book presentation of a work I had last read on-screen. In 2013 Fuller self-published it and just before Christmas let me know that the book has been doing extremely well, finding readers all over the world. That’s fitting, as it’s truly a global book.

It opens in the late 1960s with the installation of protagonist Rowan Ellway as the new president of a small Midwestern college; it closes in 2030 amid the climax of a U.S. presidential campaign involving Rowan’s son Adam, who was earlier Speaker of the House of Representatives. The novel’s sixty-year arc touches on campus life, ballet, college basketball, interracial relationships, world government, and the bright red berries that drop from the rowan tree. At the same time, readers are treated to memorable characters like Easter Blue, a female African-American student who becomes Rowan’s ally in reform and soul mate in life; Marisol, a talented ballerina and Adam Blue’s half-sister; Élodie, a French-Vietnamese doctor with Doctors Without Borders; and Lahiri, a metaphysically-minded professor of geology in India. The Rowan Tree captures the universal quest for dignity in our time and envisions this quest in the decades to come. The novel relies on realism for its storytelling yet is unabashedly speculative in its vision of the future, in the sense that Margaret Atwood uses the term ‘speculative fiction.’

Fuller’s background is as fascinating as the novel, and key to the writing of it. His father worked at Bell Labs where he invented the solar cell. Bob was a childhood prodigy who attended Oberlin College at age 15, then got his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton, at 18. At 24 he co-authored Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics, a textbook still widely used today. At 33 he was named president of Oberlin College, then the youngest college president in the nation. In the years that followed, he worked with the government of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi to alleviate famine; with President Carter on the Presidential Commission to End World Hunger; and with Soviet scientists to reduce nuclear stockpiles during the Cold War. With the collapse of the USSR, Fuller’s career as a citizen-diplomat ended. From his status as a former college professor, president, and envoy, he reflected that at times in his life he had in society’s eyes been a ‘somebody,’ whereas now he was a comparative ‘nobody.’ This led him to identify the abuses of power inherent in unmerited rank as the unexamined prejudice of our age, and write through that prism.

While the novel outlines his vision of a just society, it is no mere manifesto. It’s an exciting and pacy story with an engrossing plot, structured like an Arthurian quest, climaxing with a vision of a world in which the attainment of dignity for all—the holy grail—is at last within reach. You might say the novel is a “Fountainhead for liberals.”

I’m happy for Fuller–his book is totally worthwhile and it’s a great read. He also sent me a screenshot (shown below) that shows that his book is finding readers on Amazon, where readers have left worthy comments like this one, which I’ll assign the last word in this post: “The narrative takes the reader to unexpected places, cleverly spanning history with glimpses of a future possible. The philosophy could have so easily been overdone, but instead allowed the characters to evolve in each of their own story arcs. I have been reflecting on my own responses ever since. Read it and allow the lessons to shape your own story…” The Rowan Tree


#FridayReads, Jan 3– Julian Symons’ “The Color of Murder”

The Color of Murder#FridayReads The Color of Murder, a 1957 chiller by Julian Symons, a great scholar of the genre & a terrific crime writer. This one is narrated largely through use of a statement that the suspect of the murder ostensibly makes to a court-mandated psychiatrist in his case. Symons (1912-94) was the younger brother of biographer A.J.A. Symons, author of The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography, an intoxicating book on the mysterious and eccentric Frederick Rolfe (the self-styled Baron Corvo who in the world of the book becomes the first English Pope). The younger Symons also wrote Mortal Consequences, an excellent critical study of the mystery genre. I always pick up his books when I see them second-hand, as I did with this pulpy old edition I found on a table in Greenwich Village earlier this week. It’s in good shape, a very pleasing pick up.Color of Murder back cover

A Basket Full of Holiday #FridayReads

PT #FridayReads photoDelighted to have so much free time this week for this terrific collection of great recreational and work-related reading. Here’s a quick rundown on each book with the tweets I put out about them tonight.
My fave books by suspense writer Michael Connelly are his Harry Bosch novels, but the ones involving defense attorney Mickey Haller are enjoyable too.

Dave Bidini, longtime member of The Rheostatics, is a triple threat–stellar musician, compelling writer, and all-around good guy. I love oral histories like this one: the memorable voices of many musicians are soldered together in to an alternately hilarious and heartbreaking narrative of stalwarts traveling and playing music across one of the largest countries on the planet.

I admire CUNY Graduate Center Professor William Helmreich’s civic enterprise–he walked on nearly street in the five boroughs, meeting and speaking with hundreds of New Yorkers to weave together a fascinating portrait of the 21st century city enriched by new immigrant groups.

I’m hopeful that Chicago writer Haas’s suspense novels will merit rediscovery and publication. I was delighted to be asked to look at them by Shirley Haas and old Chicago friend Kevin Riordan.

#FridayReads, Nov 22–Patty Dann’s Novel “Starfish”


#FridayReads, Nov 15–James Agee’s “Cotton Tenants: Three Families” & Patrick Watson’s “Alter Ego”

Cotton Tenants

Cotton Tenants backAlter Ego backAlter Ego

#FridayReads, Nov 8–Book Proposals & Manuscripts–Examining a Notorious Political Killing, Exploring the Paranormal, etc.

#FridayReads, Nov 8–While I’m sure I’ll be reading a proper book or two this weekend, my reading this week has been dominated by work-related materials–nonfiction book proposals, fiction manuscripts and lots of promising queries on submission to me in my work as a literary agent, part of my publishing work. Here’s a rundown on some of what I’m looking at, only in generalities out of deference to the writers whose work I’m considering: 1) a proposal for a book that will explore the motive behind one of the most infamous consequential political crimes of the 20th century, while also one of its least examined; 2) a hardboiled crime novel about the theft of an election in a battleground midwestern state; 3) several works by a British scholar with a rigorous approach to unexplained phenomena involving the super- or even the paranormal; and 4) an original manuscript that includes the original heretofore unpublished memoir of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic, even weird, movie-making mogul.

Wrapping Up a Week of NY Celebrations & Great Reading

It’s been a celebratory week in NYC and an active one on The Great Gray Bridge, so here is a summary of recent highlights for interested readers who may have missed any of them.

Ruth Gruber & Philip Turner1) Celebrating Photojournalist & Author Ruth Gruber’s 102nd Birthday With Her
2) Word of an Important New Book on Bob Dylan By a ’60s Confidant
3) Celebrating Valerie Plame’s “Blowback”&Recalling Tumultous Events of a Decade Ago
#FridayReads, Oct. 4–Katie Hafner’s Exquisite Memoir “Mother Daughter Me”