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This Week in Literary History

September 1st, 2015

English novelist H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds, 1898) is born in 1866 in Bromley, Kent.

wellscartooncolor*H.G. Wells, b. September 21, 1866, d. 1946

An brilliant polymath and largely self-educated, Wells became extremely well-known and popular for his use of scientific information in his many books. His Outline of History remains a wonderful summation, and his novels still pulsate with visionary prescience.

Suggested Reading Novels The Time Machine, 1895. The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896. The Invisible Man, 1897. The War of the Worlds, 1898. The First Men in the Moon, 1901. Tono-Bungay, 1909. The History of Mr. Polly, 1910. The World Set Free, 1914. Stories The Country of the Blind, 1911. Short Stories of H.G. Wells, 1927. Essays & Studies Mankind in the Making, 1903. Socialism and Marriage, 1908. God, the Invisible King, 1917. The Outline of History, 1920. A Short History of the World, 1922. Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1946. Autobiography Certain Personal Matters, 1897. An Experiment in Autobiography, 1934.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History | Link to this Entry

Super début

September 1st, 2015


by Susan Altstatt
Fithian Press, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Miranda “Andy” Falconer is a wonderful creation. Intellectual and intelligent, she’s also resourceful as hell and wise beyond her years. In serious teen-aged love with rock star Tommi Rhymer of the band Belshangles, she contrives, on the spur of the moment, to kidnap her beloved after a concert and keep him captive for two weeks in a remote mountain cabin so that he can break his heroine addiction.

Susan Altstatt’s book — it was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards — is the story of this unlikely but crazily believable abduction. Along the way, poor Andy has to carry her hero, who has passed out, into the cabin, and then, when he wakes up, withstand his wrath and physical violence, outrun him when he tries to escape, see that he is fed and kept warm, and generally cope with his drug withdrawal, which takes more than a week.

This is Altstatt’s first novel, but you’d never suspect it from the writing, which is assured, almost cocky in its confidence. Both of the main characters are fully drawn and full of surprises. Rock star Tommi, although glamorous and scarcely educated, is intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate, and the ancillary dramatis personæ — Andy’s mother and father, her friend Skye, Tommi’s partner Harlan — make brief but vivid appearances. The plot unspools in conventional chronological order, and glimpses of the pasts of both characters are smoothly integrated. There’s not a bit of awkwardness in the showing or telling anywhere; this is an almost absurdly well-written first novel (or second or third, for that matter).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

This Month in Black Lamb

Volume 13, Number 9 — September 2015

September 1st, 2015

The All-Drugs Issue

In September’s All-Drugs Issue, John M. Daniel examines a favorite weed in Marijuana mythtique. In My boozy blind dates, Elizabeth Fournier wonders why men think being shitfaced makes them attractive. Toby Tompkins doesn’t take illegal drugs anymore, but in Pharmacopoeia he lists his legal ones. In Escape from pain, Karla Powell names the reason for drug use but advocates stoicism instead. Greg Roberts takes the responsibility for the drug culture squarely on his shoulders in Blame us boomers. The Great Aphorist is M.A. Orthofer’s review of a fascinating book by Pierre Senges. Brad Bigelow reviews Peter Greave’s book about leprosy in Ugly disease, lovely writing; he also reviews a book about light verse by Helen Bevington. Terry Ross hails a marvelous first novel by a seventy-five-year-old author — Susan Altstatt’s Belshangles — in Super début.

We welcome William Carlos Williams and we grudgingly admit Ken Kesey into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge champ Trixie Barkis poses a couple of new card problems. Our recipe of the month is for Creamy Lamb Stew. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall talks about drugs. And Professor Avram Khan submits another tricky word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Drugs Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Last Month in Black Lamb

Volume 13, Number 8 — August 2015

August 1st, 2015

In August’s issue, Terry Ross looks at the USA’s inept immigration industry in Those huddled masses. In Living in a sitcom, Elizabeth Fournier remembers sharing a house in San Francisco. Thou swell, thou witty, thou sad is the title of John M. Daniel’s article on the death of Lorenz Hart. Lorentz Lossius gets high in Turkey with Kurdish pals. In When is a rat not a rat? Susan Bennett recounts overcoming her distaste for rodents. M.A. Orthofer reviews Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Submission in The end of civilization? In Upstaged, Brad Bigelow reviews an unfairly forgotten novel by Jane Mayhall.

We welcome classicist Edith Hamilton and novelist V.S.Naipaul into our exclusive club of Honorary Black Lambs. In Unbeautiful neighborhood, advice columnist Millicent Marshall holds forth on unsightly cables and dusty shrubs. And Professor Khan gives us another of his challenging word puzzles.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Those huddled masses

Are we protecting the worst and expelling the best?

August 1st, 2015


She came here for love. She fed a generation of hungry Americans. She created and lavished care on a beloved institution in Portland, Ore. So why did the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service want to kick Rose-Marie Barbeau Quinn out of the United States of America?

The short answer is that according to INS definitions, she was an illegal alien, having been born and raised in Canada. Although a Portlander and homeowner since 1976, Mrs. Quinn hadn’t jumped through all the right hoops at the right time.

Rose-Marie Barbeau met Mike Quinn in 1967 at the Vienna State Opera. He was a week younger than she. The opera was Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Quinn later joked that it was inevitable that they met — the opera went on for six hours. For the next ten years, in various cities in Europe, they were never apart, even at work. They both took jobs at Phillips of Holland in Vienna, then at an exchange program for American students in Austria, and finally, for four years, at the Atomic Energy Agency, where Rose-Marie did clerical work and Mike worked in the library.

In 1976 they moved to Portland, Quinn’s hometown. As culture devotees, the American and the Canadian found Portland’s nightlife barbaric. There were the symphony, the opera, and the ballet, true, but afterwards, everyone just went home. There wasn’t a single late-hours cafe or restaurant where you could eat, drink, and discuss the performance you had just attended.

In February 1978, she and Mike put down $21K, borrowed $12K more, and opened a quasi-bistro or Gasthaus — Rose-Marie always called it simply “the pub” — the Vat & Tonsure. While opera recordings played in the background, Rose-Marie cooked. Mike ran the business and stocked the wine cellar. Actors, lawyers, opera singers, politicians, symphony musicians, civic leaders, and citizens hungry for a taste of Europe quickly made it one of Portland’s most popular hangouts.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

Two months ago in Black Lamb

Volume 13, Number 7 — July 2015

July 1st, 2015

The Black Lamb Review of Books XIII

In July’s special book issue, John M. Daniel revisits favorite books in Trilogies & quartets. In Revisiting Camus, M.A. Orthofer reviews Kamel Daoud’s reimagining of The Stranger. Toby Tompkins reviews a book about the causes of World War I in Paranoia. In Personal impressions, Brad Bigelow reviews one of the best books ever written about World War II. Lee Matalone reviews a fine collection of Italo Calvino’s stories in Significance galore. In His best novel, Walter Biggins reviews a collection of Jim Harrison’s Brown Dog novellas. Elizabeth Fournier takes a look back at Nancy Mitford in In the business. In Summer reading, Terry Ross reviews Susan Altstatt’s remarkable debut novel Belshangles and three other books. And Lane Browning reviews a book about a found photo in Mystery image.

We welcome literary critic Lionel Trilling and novelist Cormac McCarthy into our roster of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge writer Trixie Barkis describes another tricky bit of cardplay. We offer our umpteenth delicious lamb recipe. Millicent Marshall again answers reader’s questions. And Professor Khan proffers another of his challenging word puzzles.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Trilogies & quartets

Short introductions to a few long works

July 1st, 2015


Many’s the time I’ve finished a novel and wished it could have gone on, that the story could continue, so I could spend more time with the characters and continue to enjoy the author’s brain and storytelling style. Of course I could reread the novel, and I often do, after a bit of time has elapsed. But what I really want is a continuation of the novel: an ongoing plot. I want to know what happens next.

This isn’t the case with all novels. Some wonderful stories are complete in one volume; and although I probably would enjoy reading more novels by the same good writer, I’m fully satisfied with where the one I have just finished, finished. But what a pleasure it has been when I knew I could go on to another step in the story’s journey. Or what a pleasant surprise to find out that a good story will live on in a sequel, for starters, and may turn into a trilogy or even a quartet of linked novels.

What follows is an annotated and opinionated list of sequential novels, books that belong to each other in threes and fours. In compiling the list I followed three self-imposed rules: (1) within each trilogy or quartet, each volume must be able to stand alone, but (2) together they form a narrative greater than the sum of its parts, and (3) I must have read the books, and I must have liked them enough to recommend them to others. I am presenting these in alphabetical order by authors’ last names, to overrule any tendency to rank the works.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

June 2015 in Black Lamb

Volume 13, Number 6 — June 2015

June 1st, 2015

In June’s issue, Terry Ross discusses libraries in Pantheon of books. In Loess is more, John M. Daniel salutes songwriter/lyricist Frank Loesser. Toby Tompkins confesses a need to make himself invisible in Hidey holes. In Scaredy-cat girl, Elizabeth Fournier recalls an unsettling road trip. Karla Kruggel Powell makes a plea for the wild wolf in Reintroducing ourselves. Lorentz Lossius offers a sixteenth installment of his Turkey diary. In Don’t cry for me, Nicaragua, Rene Mendieta tells the story of his coming to America. M.A.Orthofer reviews Kamel Daoud’s fictional revisit of Camus’s L’Étranger. In The examined life, Brad Bigelow examines the writing career of Alice Koller.

Renaissance dramatist Ben Jonson and contemporary short story writer Tobias Wolff are this month’s Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge writer Trixie Barkis sets us more problems to solve. A Lamb-Rice Casserole is June’s yummy lamb recipe. Millicent Marshall again answers reader’s questions, and Professor Khan tries to stump us (again) with one of his fiendish word puzzles.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Loess is more

In praise of Frank Loesser

June 1st, 2015


When asked who they thought were the most important writers of “The Great American Songbook,” most Americans today might say, “Never heard of that book. Is it available from Amazon?” If you tell them it’s a term for an important part of their cultural heritage, namely the popular standards, songs written for Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood from 1920 to 1950 or thereabouts, their eyes will glaze over. For them, what we call the standards are as dead as vaudeville or barbershop harmony.

loesserTry again. When asked who they thought were the most important writers of “The Great American Songbook,” most somewhat older Americans, for whom standards make up the soundtrack of their lives, are likely to answer, “Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and/or Hammerstein…” To name a few. I agree with those candidates, but would like to induct another into the Hall of Fame: Frank Loesser.

Frank Loesser, like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer, wrote both music and lyrics to his songs, although, like Mercer, Loesser also wrote lyrics for melodies written by other composers. Loesser’s lyrics were as good as Mercer’s (that’s saying a lot), and his melodies were a lot better.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

May in Black Lamb

Volume 13, Number 5 — May 2015

May 1st, 2015

The All-Sex Issue

In May’s All-Sex Issue (July will All-Drugs and September All-Rock ‘n’ Roll), Terry Ross examines society’s fixation on all things sexual in Obsession. In Selfish jerk, Elizabeth Fournier details her blind date with the mayor of a California city. John M. Daniel salutes Cole Porter in Clever, classy, & sassy. In Getting lucky, Toby Tompkins remembers an episode from when he was just seventeen. Lorentz Lossius gives us an atmospheric poem about cruising, In Central Park. In Choose your sex… if you can, we reveal a list of more than 50 “official” gender designations. In commemoration of Memorial Day, Vietnam vet Michael McCusker makes a plea for peace in Recruiting tomorrow’s dead. As usual, we offer a selection of insightful book reviews.

And, as always, our regular departments: our Honorary Black Lambs from the world of literature, our delicious lamb recipe, our incomparable bridge columnist Trixie Barkis, and our word puzzle master, Dr. Khan.•

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Sex Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

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