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Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Salinger Read
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As many readers know by now, author J.D. Salinger died yesterday. And many readers have read Salinger. Even not-so-lit me read "The Catcher in the Rye" when I was too young to really understand all the East Coast stuff it inhabited. Speaking of reading preferences, what were Salinger's? Roger L. Simon comes to the rescue with this anecdote. Key passage: My encounters with Salinger happened when I was a Dartmouth student (1964). The already reclusive Salinger would appear on the campus occasionally, usually to make a stop at the Dartmouth Bookstore to stock up on books. (He lived some twenty miles off in the town of Cornish, N. H.) When he was around, word would go out to the artier types at the college and we would slip over to the bookstore and, well, stalk the famous writer, I guess you could say. By then he had published Franny and Zooey, among other works, which we greatly admired. But many of us were puzzled that the majority of his purchases were mere mystery paperbacks – Dorothy Sayers was one of his favorites. Undergraduate snobs, we had expected Dostoevsky or Camus. This deserves further comment, but I'm not equipped to deliver. Are you there, Michael Blowhard? Anyone? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 28, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

A Disappearing Book Genre
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We'll probably drive to Reno tomorrow so that Nancy can take a break from skiing. While there, I'll probably stop by the National Automobile Museum, site of what's left of the once-massive Bill Harrah collection. If I do, I'll probably do a walk-through of the books/gift shop. Am I using the word "probably" a lot? Well, here's one more: In the shop I probably won't spy a lot of books dealing with cars of a given brand (or "marque" as it's often put). Actually, automobile books of all descriptions save shop-manuals seem to have been in comparatively short supply for the last ten or 15 years or so. Okay, another exception is the sort of car book you can see piled high in the discount section of your local Barnes & Noble store. What I've been missing are serious histories of marques intended for car buffs like me. Back in the 1970s and 80s there were many such books that I'd drool over in stores, fingers itching, especially in times when my book-buying budget was tight. Nowadays, I just don't see many compelling car books. Why? One possibility is that it's just me; I bought the good stuff and new titles get ignored because I really don't need a lot of redundancy. Most likely, publishers find that books about defunct marques simply don't sell all that well. Marque books I notice on store shelves tend to be about existing makes (Porsche, Ferrari, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and such) or dead brands familiar to the under-50 crowd. (Be braced for more titles dealing with Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Plymouth.) New offerings treating Packard, Studebaker, Nash, Hudson and De Soto are rare, and often take the form of photo albums. This seems to be true in Europe as well. When I visit, I keep my eyes open for books dealing with 1927-1947 vintage Alfa-Romeos, Lagondas, Lancias and such. I'd like to find a decent book about pre-1958 "street" Ferrari coachwork by various builders such as Touring and Vignale. Of interest to me are those now little-known English makes such as Jowett, Riley, Wolseley (I do have a book or two about these). French publishers seem to do a little better, so I have a fair collection dealing with French brands. Besides the personal experience factor, it's likely that people (usually guys) are less emotionally involved with cars these days than my generation was. Therefore, I await the launch of books dealing with histories of cell-phone brands. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 28, 2010 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recession Snows Tahoe Under
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our get-out-of-Seattle-in-winter effort is into its final phases. That is, we're in the Lake Tahoe area for Nancy's annual ski week. I never skiied much and quit before I bailed out of Albany, NY to return to the Seattle area. So she skis and I try to keep busy doing other things. Today those "other things" involved driving down to South Lake Tahoe/Stateline to buy a few needed groceries. While there, I checked out the commercial scene. Two or three years ago, the place was doing well, if appearance was any guide. Now, that same casual yardstick suggests that times are hard. In the "village" by the big Marriott on the main drag, something like half the retail spaces are vacant. Nearby, things don't look so bad, but vacancies seem greater than last year which was worse than pre-recession. I then drove over to Harrah's and did a walk-through of the four big casinos on the Nevada side of the state line. Two of them -- the Montbleu and the Horizon -- didn't look healthy. Some restaurants were closed "for the season" or otherwise simply shuttered. The slot machine zone of one casino struck me as sparsely populated -- by machines as well as gamblers. Harrah's and its sister (brother?) casino Harvey's seemed in better shape. Perhaps that might be due to the comparatively deep pockets of the Harrah organization. Even so, a small Harrah casino for non-smokers called Bill's was closed (it never struck me as very busy in past years). Skiing is an expensive hobby, so it stands to reason that it would be affected by the current recession which is lengthy as well as deep. Had the recession been shorter, perhaps more tourist-related businesses would have survived. For what it's worth, what I've been seeing here is the strongest evidence of the recession that I've experienced thus far. On the other hand, I haven't visited Detroit and similar places since before the 2008 crash. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 26, 2010 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forever Young
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now that Michael Blowhard has willed me the Top Banana role here at 2B, I whine from time to time that posting reinforcements are more than welcome. Last week, longtime reader Rick Darby passed along the following thoughts. * * * * * Forever Young May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung, May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young. — Bob Dylan The pace is picking up. “My” generation is dying off. I put quotes around “my” because it doesn’t necessarily mean exact chronological cohorts. Rather, people whose work affected me when I was young, or at least a lot younger than I am now, and left a lasting impression. It’s hard to imagine them aging, impossible to comprehend them dying. They and I will always be in the 1960s or 1970s when I think of them. (That’s not so long ago in my mind, although for young adults it’s the Pleistocene Age.) Just this week, two people I never met personally but with whom I connected with emotionally passed out of this life. The first was Kate McGarrigle, one-half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Their first album floored me when I heard it in the early ’70s; some 35 years later, it still does. Practically every track on the album sparkles. They were bilingual “English” girls from French Canada, blessed with splendid voices, individually and in harmony. I’m not sure which songs were written by which sister (the sublime “Heart Like a Wheel” is credited to Anna), but they were synergy in action. Kate and Anna released other albums over the decades. While they were of uneven quality, and none in my estimation surpassed that original effort, the craftsmanship was always there. They continued to offer consolation to those of us who were immiserated as popular music sank to ever-more artificial, and often cretinous, levels. The other loss this week that affected me was the detective novel writer Robert B. Parker. I believe I discovered him by way of his first book, The Godwulf Manuscript, about the same time as the sisters McGarrigle swum into my ken. He created the tough, wisecracking detective Spenser who was to Boston what Hammett’s Sam Spade was to San Francisco and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was to Los Angeles. Parker has his detractors, and I agree with some of their reasons. After the first few novels, the Spenser series started to roll off an assembly line -- still entertaining enough to be good company on an airplane ride or for light reading, but successive titles did not grow in depth over the years like Ross Macdonald’s, for instance. But it was thrilling enough to my young self to learn that the Raymond Chandler tradition was alive and well, and the snappy dialogue probably influenced my own style, as it undoubtedly influenced many others. (I’m not, of course, saying I imitate Parker or comparing myself to him... posted by Donald at January 25, 2010 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Opening Soon: Psychic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The title of this post is approximately what I read on what appeared to be a professionally painted canvas sign on the back, freeway-facing wall of a new strip mall someplace between Vacaville and Sacramento California. Maybe this is nothing new to you. For me, most of the psychics I notice seem to be in residences in transitional (residential-to-commercial) neighborhoods. Perhaps you've seen them: a house with a sign in a front window featuring a drawing of a hand and a short slogan with the word "Psychic" prominently displayed. The closest I ever got to psychic stuff was many, many years ago when my grandmother read tea leaves for a cousin of mine who was really anxious about finding herself a man (I don't remember what the leaves said, but ten or so years later she did get married). This means that I'm clueless regarding (1) what comprises the clientele for psychics and (2) what psychics actually tell those people. But that forthcoming psychic shop in the new strip mall intrigues me. Is that a sign the psychics are getting enough business to go mainstream? Please advise. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 24, 2010 | perma-link | (5) comments