Saturday, February 27, 2021

What is the Tapestry of Books?

Scott D. Parker

It took only fifty years but I finally listened to Carole King’s Tapestry.

If you read about my regulated reading a few weeks ago, you’ll remember that I’m reading Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth, his examination about rock music in 1971. As a fun project in 2021, I’m reading the book a chapter at a time, corresponding to a month of 1971. Thus, it’ll take me all year to read this book. Shrug. It’s fun.

Anyway, by reading Hepworth’s book, I have discovered Carole King’s 1971 album, Tapestry. It turns fifty this month, so it’s been fun to read all the retrospectives written about a new-to-me album. By the way, I ended up buying it last weekend after listening to it on YouTube for weeks.

One of those essays is by Bob Lefsetz, the man behind The Lefsetz Letter. He, too, is a new discovery from a few months back. I’ve quite enjoyed his deep dives in music and other things.  

Lefsetz starts his post about Tapestry with this observation:

"It was an album for everybody.

That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, the music business takes a giant leap forward, everybody pays attention, everybody listens, music is talked about, it drives the culture.

Last example? Adele. Her album “21” sold ten times, literally TEN TIMES as much as everything else in the marketplace. It worked for hipsters and as well as casual listeners. It was an alchemy of songs and singing, of passion and precision. “21” was a statement by an artist, not just product to support a system.

Same deal with the Beatles. At first it was a teen phenomenon. Then came “Michelle” and “Yesterday.” No one could deny them as songs.”

Lefsetz goes on to describe the phenomenon of an album for everybody. It is the album owned by the casual listeners, the hipsters, the soccer moms, the dads, the teenagers, the middle-aged, and so on.

After I finished reading Lefsetz’s piece—while listening to Tapestry for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time, my thoughts turned to books.

What is the Tapestry of Books?

What is the book or books everybody owns? We can leave aside the question of whether or not the books are actually read. What is the book read by casual readers, soccer moms, dads, teenagers, the middle-aged, and so on?

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a short post about going to estate sales and seeing the novels of Louis L’amour on the bookshelves. But I specifically pointed out that those books were on the shelves of proto-man caves. If we were only talking about men’s novels, I’d suggest Clive Cussler or Lee Child or Michael Connolly.

But I’m going broader. I would think few teenagers or soccer moms might read the exploits of Jack Reacher. What are the books that appeal to a broad reading audience?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown instantly jumps to mind. It was everywhere in 2003 and it seemed like everyone had read it. I think James Patterson books land in quite a few home libraries, but I cannot think of a single volume of his that fits this criteria. Stephen King is another author who probably has at least one book in many, many homes, but what’s that one book? Nora Roberts is very popular, but I can’t think many guys read her books.

Another candidate is John Grisham’s The Firm. Maybe To Kill a Mockingbird?

So I’m throwing out the question to everyone. What books are for everyone? What book is like Tapestry?

Oh, and yeah, I listened to Tapestry while writing this piece. Man, is that a great album. How in the world did I never hear it until February 2021?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Locked down with Lockdown


This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at the LOCKDOWN anthology from Polis Books.

In “Lockdown,” 19 of today’s finest suspense, horror, and crime writers explore how humanity reacts to the ultimate pandemic. From New York City to the Mexican border, from the Deep South to the misty shores of Seattle, their characters are fighting for survival against incredible odds. An anthology for our time, showing how the worst crises can lead to the best of us. Proceeds from LOCKDOWN will go to support BINC, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, as it seeks to help booksellers recover from the devastating COVID-19 crisis.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Look for Patterns

by Scott Adlerberg 

I've finished three of the six parts of the new movie by  Adam Curtis, Can't Get You Out of My Head.  It's the British filmmaker's latest collage-like excursion into exactly how the world we live in today has become the way it is, both in the West and in the East (especially China).

Like with all of Curtis' films, there are loads of ideas to chew over.  But so far, the segment that struck me with the greatest force is the one that looks at Jim Garrison, the District Attorney for New Orleans from 1962 to 1973.  He's the guy Kevin Costner played in Oliver Stone's JFK, the one who investigated the John Kennedy assassination and prosecuted New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones in the film) in connection with the killing.  A jury heard Garrison's case and returned a verdict of not-guilty for Shaw after less than an hour of deliberation.  Anyone who has seen the movie knows the complexity and vastness of the narrative that Garrison wove around the Kennedy killing, a narrative that begins in one place and takes off into flights of convoluted fantasy, conspiracy theory thinking at its finest (or worst).

Wrong on the facts, Jim Garrison. 

And yet...

In his film, Adam Curtis discusses a memo Garrison wrote to his staff while in the midst of his investigations. Curtis explains how Garrison believed that modern democratic government in America was just a facade and that behind this facade was another secret system of power that really controlled the country.  But because this secret system was so hidden and powerful, you could never discover it through normal means.  Garrison wrote a memo to his staff called "Time and Propinquity" to address this situation, and in the memo Garrison explained how you could uncover this secret world.

To quote Curtis on Garrison/s memo: "You didn't bother with meaning or logic because that will always be hidden.  Instead, you looked for patterns, strange coincidences and links that may seem to have no meaning but are actually tell-tale signs on the surface of the hidden system of power underneath."

Curtis pauses in his narration and then says: "This theory was going to have a very powerful effect in the future because it would lead to a profound shift in how many people understood the world.  Because what it said was that in a dark world of hidden power you couldn't expect everything to make sense, that it was pointless to try to understand the meaning of why something happened, because that would always be hidden from you.  What you looked for were the patterns."

Indeed!  I found this fascinating (not to say extremely unusual coming from a city district attorney) because it exemplifies how a person, Garrison, could be so off in the specifics of his theory about a particular case yet lay down an overall theory that would become so prevalent.  Wrong, Garrison, but totally right in a sense.   As Curtis says about the Time and Propinquity theory, "Fragments...That's how people think now.  They make associations and there's no meaning.  That's the world we live in."

It is an illuminating moment, I thought, and I actually stopped the film and went back and replayed the section.  The Time and Propinquity theory.  How that kind of thinking has metastasized.  The obsession with looking for patterns.  A memo from the desk of a New Orleans DA to something common in the world at large, helped, of course, by social media.  

So strange really, but, you know, that's where we are.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Synonym + Antonym = Crucial Reference Tome

By Claire Booth

I do most of my writing at home, so I’m never really limited by having to pack my laptop and various things into a manageable bag in order to take them somewhere. Which means I have some truly massive reference books. 


Like the three-pound Chicago Manual of Style—painful in a shoulder bag and painful because, well, it’s the Chicago Manual of Style (yawn). And my trusty Oxford Pocket American Thesaurus, which despite its name measures eight-by-five inches and weighs more than a pound and a half. I know—compared with other Oxford reference books (OED anyone?) my little volume is the equivalent of a pamphlet. But it’s still not exactly something you tuck in your purse.

Then one day I needed a synonym while I was out in the world. So I had to use my phone. And man, is there a lot of crap out there. Half-ass attempts, or ones with a maze of links to get through in order to see a list of words. But then I alighted on It’s easy to use (i.e. quick), with a clean interface and few if any ads. And I’ve found that the Macmillan includes more phrases and out-of-left field suggestions. Now I use it all the time.

I still love flipping through the Oxford’s physical pages—my eyes landing on entries I wasn’t even looking for, getting sucked down the wonderful rabbit hole of words. But if you need something portable and just as good (if not quite as rabbit-holey), I highly recommend the truly pocket-sized Macmillan online thesaurus.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Great Texas Freeze-Out of 2021

by Scott D. Parker

Well, that was something.

As a native Houstonian, I used to look north at winter with a sense of missing out. Look, they had snow. That all changed when I spent a semester in grad school back in 1996 in Kent State University in northeast Ohio. I got a taste of winter and a new understanding came over me: I was not, in fact, missing out on anything. Don't get me wrong: snow for skiing is still awesome. But I was done with cold weather, and I vowed, as I crossed back into Texas that summer never to complain about the heat again. 

And I haven't. Partway through this week, I told my son I can't wait for August in Texas. 

Winters here in Houston are relatively mild most of the time. I kept my Ohio winter jacket but rarely need it. A few years ago, we literally got winter for a weekend. A big cold snap that killed plants but we were back to our normal Houston winter the following week. No problem.

But this week was a problem. For me and my family and millions of others. 

This past weekend was normal. My wife and I watched some television on Sunday night before she retired to bed. My son returned from his job and ventured into his room to watch some anime and YouTube. I had Presidents' Day off so I stayed up later than usual. I channel surfed before falling asleep on the couch, a rarity for me. So tired was I that not only did I fall asleep in my clothes but I didn't plug in my iPhone.

Two hours after midnight on Monday morning, the sleet arrived and the power blipped out. As a resident of the fourth largest city in the country, when our power goes out, it's usually back on in minutes or less. As a preemptive measure, I lit the gas fireplace. I didn't turn it off until Wednesday night when our power was restored. Fifty-eight hours in case you were wondering. 

Monday and Tuesday were the worst, with Monday night the coldest weather I've endured since Ohio. But at least in Ohio we had power and heaters. For two days, during the worst cold to hit the city in thirty years--some say over a century--there was no power in the house.

Our house is U-shaped. On one end was the TV room. That's where the fireplace is. It faces north which, during hurricane season (they come from the south) is a good thing. No so much for winter weather. We put sheets over the back glass door and the short front hallway. We closed the hall door to the back of the house. When we had to let our dogs out, I used the back game room as the 'airlock.' Every door in the house was opened and closed. We could literally feel the temperature drop as we went into each room. 

We stocked our essential refrigerator food into the ice chest and took it outside. Ditto for the frozen food. The irony there was that we needed simply to leave it outside. It was cold enough. We brought in the sleeping bags and the air mattress that we discovered held no air into the main room and hunkered down.

Fearing burst water pipes, we preemptively turned off the water at the house. As of yesterday morning, we still hadn't turned it back on. We wanted Friday's sun and another day's worth of home heating to warm the pipes and pray they didn't burst. For the bathroom facilities, yes, we harvested snow for the bathtub. My dad--who grew up in Tyler, Texas, and dealt with spotty electricity as something that happened frequently enough that they had lanterns around the house--reminded me of the rhyme about hygiene without water: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." 

The clothes I fell asleep in back on Sunday consisted of jeans, undershirt, button down shirt, and a wool sweater. Monday morning, I added a knit sweater and a hoodie. For my head, I put on a stocking cap. In the house. Despite the gas fireplace (and gas stove), the temperature continued to drop. The lowest it got in that room, with three people, two dogs, and a cat, was 39 degrees.

With no power to charge our phones, my boy and I went out to my car, which is now the oldest of the three cars and gets to spend its time in the driveway. Lucky for us. I had filled the tank and the boy and I sat for hours, charging phones, listening to classic rock radio, and getting warm. The wife opted to stay inside with the dogs and the fireplace, layered up, and read or played Plants vs. Zombies. 

Driving around on Monday with the snow and ice on the roads, some of my old Ohio skills returned. I used it as a teaching experience. We found a Walgreens open and bought some more batteries, a trio of flashlights, and some ground coffee. I buy coffee beans and grind them myself, but without power, those beans are as good as useless.

There's something to be said for being a parent and not being able to keep your child warm. Sure, he's nineteen, but there's still that part of you that knows your child will go to bed cold and there's nothing you can do about it other than offer him more blankets. Ditto for your wife. 

With no other distractions, it is amazing how long an hour can feel. Then a day, and then another day. Cell service was spotty so we'd get our news in fits and starts. We brought in an old battery powered jam box on Tuesday evening--hard to remember where it was--and we three settled into a pleasant waiting experience. Sure, it was fifty-something in the house, but you'd be amazed how warm that felt. 

Wednesday around lunchtime as the boy and I were in line for gas the wife called. The power had blipped off/on/off and then it came on. We drove to a battery store and called my parents. They had lost power, too, but it had come back on. The boy and I feared we'd get the call from the wife that the power had gone off again, but, by the time we got home, it was still on. And it stayed on the rest of the week.

Yet we still operated like we had no power. We were asked to conserve and ratio power so we did. We finally turned off the gas fireplace to conserve natural gas for others. We only used a single lamp in the TV room and didn't turn on the TV. We still used flashlights to get around the house, including when taking the dogs out. We repeated the exercise Thursday night, but did turn on the TV for news and escape. 

Speaking of escape, I got to thank my Kindle yet again. With its light feature and a lot of time to kill, I read Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt most of the way through. 

It's Friday morning as I write this. The sun is shining and I hear the sound of a chainsaw down the street. Sure, I'm still wearing three layers in the house and the thermostat shows 63 in the house--more shared conservation--but I'm hoping today will be the first normal day since Sunday. I'm looking forward to turning the water back on. Sure, we'll have to boil our water, but we'll have running water in the house. Which means we won't have to worry about mellow yellow in the toilet. Which means a shower, a luxury we've not experienced since Sunday. Had a short laugh on Wednesday night when I finally changed out of those Sunday clothes and into fresh PJs and caught a whiff of the body odor the five layers were masking. 

There will be investigations, accusations, blame, and accountability in the months to come. Our legislature is in session this spring so I hope something will be done to ensure something as severe as the Presidents' Day Ice Storm of 2021 doesn't happen again. Well, we can't prevent Mother Nature from doing this again, but we sure as hell can prepare better. 

This was my story as my family experienced it. We're going to learn a whole lot more as we get some distance. Many of those stories will be heart-wrenching and anger inducing and deservedly so. But there will also be stories of shared sacrifice people coming to each others' aid. Let's be sure to listen to them both, commiserate with those who have suffered and celebrate with those who came through. 

My family and I came through. Ain't gonna lie: it was hard but manageable. I consider us blessed to have persevered as smoothly as we did. Other did not. Let's keep them in our prayers and figure out ways to help them now and prepare us all for the next time. Because if we're talking Mother Nature, there will be a next time.

It also made us very aware of just how much electricity we use. As the boy and I drove around the west side of town on Thursday night, much of the power was back on. Office buildings and parking garages were lit up with abandon. So were various commercial places. It was a lot of power at a time we are supposed to conserve. We can't do much about those places, but already we are ensuring all lights and nonessential appliances in our house are turned off. It's a lesson we've certainly learned and will carry forward, thankful for what we have.

But I also want to leave you with this wonderful story: the family who welcomed their newborn son into the world while stuck at home without power or water. Wow.

Update: The pipes held although the water flow in a couple of the sinks have low flow. We think it is the rust of the pipes that have settled and now is clogging those little filters at the faucet. We'll have to fix that this weekend.

Update 2: As of Friday evening, the house was more or less back to normal. We still have pots in the kitchen full of clean, pre-storm water to drink. But it's a little surreal to walk through the house again, the sheets having been taken down and the sleeping bags back in the garage. It's good to be back to normal. May it last a long, long time. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Spinning plates and a diva


This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at Derek Farrell's Death of a Diva.

Danny Bird is having a very bad day. In the space of just a few hours he lost his job, his partner and his home.

Ever the optimist, Danny throws himself headlong into his dream to turn the grimmest pub in London into the coolest nightspot south of the river. Sadly, everything doesn’t go quite as planned when his star turn is found strangled hours before opening night.

Danny becomes the prime suspect in the crime, and then the gangster who really owns the pub starts asking where his share of the takings has gone… it seems things are going to get worse for Danny before they get better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Heath Lowrance and Raccoon Books

 Stolen from Heath Lowrance's IG:

“So, Heath, why ‘Raccoon Books’? What’s that all about?”

Well, since you asked: I am not a patient man. I love working with the small presses, and in the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best; New Pulp Press, Snubnose, Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey. They’ve all been very positive experiences. But a small press, like any business, has its own agenda and its own schedule. And since the world revolves around ME, clearly, that often clashes with MY projected schedule.

At the end of this year, THE BASTARD HAND will see print again from an established small press, and my agenda involves releasing some short story collections leading up to that release. I can’t in good faith expect any small press to fit that in their schedules in the way I want.

So... I started my own press. It’s nothing, really. It’s just a name to work under, to put this stuff out in the manner I want. #heathlowrance #thebastardhand #digtengraves #raccoonbooks #noirfiction #speculativefiction #author #shortstories

The first release from Raccoon Books will be DIG TEN GRAVES, coming in the next couple days, the first of three projected volumes of short stories over the course of the year. After that... who knows?

“No, no, Heath, I mean... why do you call it ‘Raccoon Books’?”

Oh. Well, because I like raccoons, man, that’s all.

Follow Heath here