Good Reads and Goodbyes

I left GoodReads recently. And I also deleted my 15 year old IMDb account. One reason was that these ratings are monetized, but another is that stars don’t tell the whole story. It was a personal decision, not a matter of principle. I am a reader and a writer, but not so much a reviewer. I found both sites useful, but not enough to share my stars with them. As you may have read, authors sometimes behave badly on Goodreads. I am reasonably sure I wouldn’t, but now that’s a certainty.

So here are a few books and films I’ve enjoyed recently, and why. It’s the month of Halloween, so some of these are creepy.

I just started WEIRDO by Cathi Unsworth, and I’m enjoying it very much. Some of that is ’80s nostalgia and old punk camaraderie, but she has a fine voice, a sneaky and subtle one that stands back and lets the story tell itself. The story is about a young woman who was institutionalized for the ritual murder of a fellow schoolmate, and a PI and activist who want to shed light on her trial, because she may not have acted alone. It has echoes of the “Paradise Lost” murders of Robin Hood Hills, the Satanic Panic of the early ’80s, and how anyone who was a “weirdo” felt back then, when having rocks thrown at you was commonplace.

PHANTASM, the infamous 1979 horror film by Don Coscarelli, who went on to direct Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End, was a blast. Yes, it’s cheap and cheesy and low-budget, but they managed great creepiness and well-spent gore with what they had. The Tall Man certainly is memorable, and what he’s doing with those corpses… well, it reminds me of another book I just finished, which was excellent:

THE CRONING by Laird Barron is a modern Lovecraftian masterpiece, without the sickly xenophobia beneath the surface, and a paranoid touch of Pynchon as well. The story is a slow burn but is well worth the wait, I kept expecting it to become twee and quaint like James Blaylock’s The Last Coin (a personal favorite) but the adorable ineptitude of its protagonist has an all too chilling reason, and I wouldn’t rob you of that revelation. Simply one of the best books I’ve read this year and one of my favorite horror novels in a long time.

And not as creepy, I enjoyed COME HERE OFTEN? 53 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar. Edited by Sean Manning, it includes entries by Laura Lippmann, Frank Bill, Alissa Nutting, Andrew WK, Duffy McKagan, Malachy McCourt, Tom Franklin, and a host of journalists, writers, musicians, and more, giving us a tour of bars from McMurdo Station to the ’70s Lower East Side, sneak-drinking in Tehran, literary bars from Oxford Mississippi to remote islands in the Pacific, James Crumley’s favorite watering holes, and more. A handsome little volume full of interesting reading.

But if you want some good scary reading, you can do worse than Flavorwire’s 50 scariest stories. I’m reading my way through the list. In daytime. With the lights on….



RIP, Elmore Leonard

A punch to the heart this morning. Elmore Leonard, author of 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, Raylan and so many more, has died. We’ve lost a gent.

elmore leonard

My first introduction to his work was through film adaptations, Charles Bronson in Mr. Majestyk. My mother loved his books- Bandits especially- and I read Get Shorty and Rum Punch early on. My story “White People Problems,” a crime caper set in the Caribbean, was my homage to his unique form of chaotic, realistic thriller, with colorful but truly human characters figuring their way through bizarre situations.

Those iconic covers sure helped!
Those iconic covers sure helped!

He wrote tight stories but his dialogue and characters were what always held me. An American anthropologist of sorts, he collected familiar frenetic grotesques we could gladly cheer. Whether it was Jackie Brown, Chili Palmer, Mr. Majestyk, or Raylan Givens of “Justified,” he had a talent for creating unforgettable characters driven to get what they wanted, and we were happy to follow.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Leonard. Tonight I’ll raise a Rum Punch in your honor.

“The saying is: 1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts strong and 4 parts weak.”

a recipe for Rum Punch. Mix ’em shake em, garnish with orange or lemon wedge.

1 cup white rum
1/2 cup dark rum
1/4 cup coconut rum
2 1/2 cups pineapple juice
2 1/2 cups orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tbsp grenadine syrup
ice cubes