Author du Jour: Lawrence Weschler

WavesPassing-cover-smallWaves Passing in the Night,” by Lawrence Weschler

(Bloomsbury, pp 176, $25.00)

If you wonder what “Apocalypse now, “The Godfather,” and “The English Patient,” have in common, you may scratch your head for a while. Or maybe not. Yes they are all films. Congratulations. But think harder? The first two films would have been an easy guess, but when introducing the third title, the Kubrick-Coppola connection falls apart. The connection is what this engaging little book, half memoir half critical conversation, that Lawrence Weschler wrote with bravado, is about. Its subject? The celebration of the great Walter Murch, the nine-time nominee for the Academy Awards and three-time its winner. Murch was much more than a sound and film editor. Listen careful Lucas’s very first film “THX 1138,” (his most futuristic and thought-provoking by far) and you will understand that at the time of its release, the soundtrack was destined to contribute to its masterpiece status.

Still, the sophistication of sound editing hides Murch’s other passion. He was for much of his life a devout amateur astrophysicist, chronicling long forgotten connection between the Titius-Bode theory and musical harmony in the universe. For a long time, it was believe that each planet of your solar system emitted its own frequencies . . . I would spare you the details, but in this case the law was supposed to have a progression ordered very much like the Fibonacci numbers, and based on planets’ positions and rotations, one could deduce whether cosmic organization was subject to universal mathematical rules. As you can imagine a sound editor advancing long discredited physics theory did not go down too well. By at the heart of this quixotic quest, Murch questions the nature of knowledge. How do we know what we know? And who is to decide what we should know? Which may seem as a big leap. But if these noises are something you are not used to hear, you are in for a seductive compelling tune.

Author du Jour: David Morrell

Morrell-RulerNight-SmallRuler of the Night,” by David Morrell

(Mulholland Books, pp 342, $27.00)

If you go down the street and ask anyone who David Morrell is chances are you will be met with blank stares. And yet, there is not a soul on earth who does not know “Rambo,” the iconic character Morrell created more than 45 years ago. In “Ruler of the Night,” Morrell spruces up another dormant icon of the 19th century British literature, the troubled soul, Thomas de Quincey, here turned detective. De Quincey has remained on bookstores’ shelves through the ages for writing “Confessions of an Opium-Eater,” a substance, which himself relied on to soothe his aching existence. Quite à propos in our age of cannabis legalization.

Ruler of the Night” is first and foremost a locked-room mystery, where a crime is committed in a train compartment even though no one, but the victim, has access to it. The setup reminds at once of Agatha Christie’s Orient Express. But here, de Quincey happens to be in the train when the crime occurs, and he sets up to find the murderer. Unlike in Christie’s, the “Ruler of the Night” carries a strong metaphor. It is not simply the darkness of the murderer. The title also evokes the monstrous machine that de Quincey perceives as a degradation of humanity. The invention of the train itself, which was to transform the fabric of societies beyond recognition, redefining time and the shrinking notion of space, which ultimately, by extension, gave rise to the British Empire. An achievement accomplished not without substantial numbers of victims along the way.

The attraction, beside the plot, here is the prose itself. More layered than many of his peers’, Morrell’s prose tastes of crimson velvet and blood. It carries the whiffs of the inescapable texture of Victorian era when the most horrific murders took place with disarming realism. One can touch both Baudelaire’s flâneur who wanders aimless through the streets of Paris, and E. A. Poe’s bedroom drama in the “Purloin Letter.” The novel, the plot and its prose . . . will turn you into an addict, even against your will.

Author du Jour: A. Scott Berg

WWI-in-US-LOA-jacket-smallWorld War I and America: Told by the American Who Lived It,” edited by A. Scott Berg

(Library of America, pp 896, $40.00)

Besides the inviting silky quality of the paper, this volume from the Library of America offers an impressive collection of articles, essays, personal stories, and declassified documents from WWI, from both participants and observers. The volume aims at providing a never-before kaleidoscope view of the “never again” war, that is the French-German butchery which supposedly was going to be the war that ends all wars.

I can only imagine the headaches A. Scott Berg, the supreme editor of the book, must have experienced to decide what to include and exclude. The wealth of the materials is just staggering, spanning the beginning of the war to the ratification of the infamous “Versailles Treaty.” Lots of names will be recognizable to the modern readers, Edith Wharton, John Reed (who proceeded to go to Russia), Willa Cather, W.E.B Dubois, and of course Woodrow Wilson. But there are many others to whom history has not been so kind and who nonetheless made important contributions. Charles Lauriat is one of them. His telling of the sinking of the “Lusitania” reads like a novel, a first direct personal account of the tragedy during the swift German Torpedo attack. The sinking of the luxury liner was pivotal, for it signaled an important escalation towards the eventual US entry into the WWI conflict in 1917. The major lessons to be learned here come from the abundance of testimonies left to us as vestiges of the past, from which we are still trying to make sense. Given that in our new millennial age the past seems to carry less and less weight, the publication of this volume offers an in-depth ballast to anchor ourselves with the understanding that where we stand today is not so random. Especially in the light of the upcoming 100-year anniversary. Time for reflection is never wasted.

Author du Jour: Alan Jacobson

March 2017. Only six weeks have elapsed since Trump took power, and what a contrast with the previous administration. The country seems to have been seized by the invisible hand of hysteria and neurosis. In recent memory, never a concentration of angry and vocal citizens has been so strident and quick to gather. In this time of uncertainty, it is always wise to take a deep breath and step to the sideline to better understand what is happening. Are we deluding ourselves with this new administration? Is the threat real? Or are we just venting the seething resentment that has been cementing since the beginning of the Great Recession and, why not, the costly Iraq War? This month’s selection provides reflections on our national and chaotic mental states.

DarknessEvil_Jacobson-smallThe Darkness of Evil,” by Alan Jacobson

(Open Road Integrated Media, pp 488, $16.99)

Sanity can be regained in many ways. While there are those who go to great lengths to analyze a person’s psyche to better penetrate it and spend a great deal of time to suggest curative solutions by trial and error, there are also those who advocate the more expeditive fire-by-fire approach. Divergent psychologies imply different perception and understanding of humankind. This is where Alan Jacobson (a truly underrated author) situates himself. Not that he necessarily believes in the latter approach, but in terms of thriller writing, his willingness to throw his characters into the darkest recesses of the human mind makes his story feel like boarding a hell-train from page one. His new Karen Vail’s novel, “The Darkness of Evil” is beautifully layered for this reason.

Think for a second if you woke one morning and found out your father was a serial killer. What would you do? What would you say? This is what happens to Jasmine Marcks, one of the protagonists. Is it possible to love a father who tortures innocent young women? Can a sadistic killer be a good father? Whose allegiance should a daughter have in mind, the community or her father? No easy answer, no matter who we are. But here the novel addresses the question in an original way. Jasmine, who turned her father in to the police, has written a book about him. But the incarcerated serial-killer father manages to escape and now seeks revenge. Karen Vail must protect Jasmine from her own father. But what is Jasmine now going to do about it? . . . “The Darkness of Evil” is a brisk, surprise-filled twisted ride, which will drain every ounce of darkness out of you and make you feel like a sober angel.

 

Author du Jour: Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams

BookJoy-Lama-smallThe Book of Joy,” by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

(Avery, pp 356, $26.00)

A major contradiction lies at the heart of Western societies. The constant pressure towards the quest for happiness. It is no secret that the pressure to be happy creates more anxiety than happiness. Tons of books from fields as varied as sociology, psychology or self-help, have attempted to deal with this issue. Often providing short-time relief with Band-aid remedies, which, as their names indicate, never last over time. Even before pre-Socratic thinkers it was known that happiness never comes from achievement or success, or wealth, or even fame for that matter. And yet, our Western societies keep on promoting these values, with disastrous results on its members. Depression, neurosis, feeling of inadequacies, feeding an endless loop of existential FOMO, and so on, abound around us.

The Book of Joy,” is one of those timeless books that aims at cutting straight through the glut of daily self-pressured drives and bad self-talk. Written by the Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, with Doug Abrams, “The Book of Joy,” details their conversations, which took place over a one-week period in Dharamsala, India. The goal of the book, beyond reuniting the two spiritual leaders, was to teach the world that the quest for happiness is precisely a futile endeavor, because it is ephemeral. They profess instead to rely on joy, at any moment in life. Especially in time of tragedy and great suffering. Both of whom are living proofs, having witnessed countless atrocities. “Every tragic situation can become an opportunity.” Abrams own Eastern interest and proficiency with the material translate the teaching into accessible pertinent lessons. The message is clear and easily absorbed. But like all disciplines, mastery requires a daily practice. No way around it, no matter how much in a rush you may be.

Author du Jour: Eric Beaumard

Beaumard-Wines-Life-small-01-03-17The Wines of My Life, ” by Eric Beaumard

(Abrams pp 280, $45.00)

The Wines of My Life” is a very important book for two reasons. First it was written by, perhaps, the most influential sommelier in the world, Eric Beaumard, who from humble origins and a major road accident that left him physically impaired (he lost an arm), but which only fortified his spirit, hoisted himself to the top rank of the wine tasting industry. For years, Beaumard was head sommelier of “Le Cinq” the prestigious restaurant located inside the Four Seasons George the Fifth in Paris.  The second reason is more prosaic.  BJD contributed to the translation of the book in the US.

Eric Beaumard narrates his tribulations around the world where he visits established names in red, white and champagne wines, Chateau Petrus, Dom Pérignon, Rothschild, to name a few, as well as discovers new upcoming crus and grapes. The present book portrays 75 exceptional wines. Beaumard goes to great lengths to describe why these wines standout from the rests. He traces their origins, history, and evolution through time, meaning winemaking process, traditional or scientific. His meditations are a nose-filled journey through the memoirs of deep musty echoing cellars, the wafting scents of fermentation-stained barrels, and the climbs of steep arid and muddy hills.  Whether you are a wine aficionado or not, “The Wines of My Life” will seduce your palate so much that you will not be able to reject the indelible notes this man is offering you.