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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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I hate books

June 1st, 2003


When I was about nine I fell in love with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was a solitary kid, and books were a seductive escape. I used to sit under a flowering bush in my family’s side yard, soggy peanut butter sandwich in hand, smelly little terrier snuffling by my side, just reading. Lewis Carroll’s imaginative scenarios about the little girl down the rabbit hole spoke directly to my rebel heart, and I memorized long passages and fancied myself a modern-day Alice: she was so crisp, so witty, so practical and peppy. She made sparkling observations, and her world was speckled with talking animals! A dream book, a book to carry with me everywhere.

Then I found out that the Rev. Dodgson was a pedophile. He converted his obsession with Alice Liddell into something sanitized and mainstream when all he really wanted was to photograph her in her underwear.

My second favorite book was The Wizard of Oz. Once again, there was a young female heroine on her own. Now Dorothy was no Alice; she was quite a bit more timid and not nearly as interesting. But she had a scruffy terrier companion, as did I, and she had glorious adventures in a land of fantasy. And green was my favorite color. The book and the movie became a package for me, and I learned all the words to “If I Only Had a Brain.”

Then I found out that Judy Garland was doped up on amphetamines, shot at special angles to look thinner/younger/shorter, and playing the role only because Shirley Temple (an idol of mine) could not be released from her contract with another studio.

When I was in junior high school I read In Cold Blood and decided I wanted to become a writer. Truman Capote’s blistering prose and clean vision mesmerized me, as did the story of the creepy Dick Hickock and the hapless Perry Smith. I couldn’t stop thinking about the daughter, Nancy, killed in her room, snatched from prom night by slippery strangers in search of riches that didn’t even exist. The book is a masterpiece, and it became a riveting film; so once more I had a neat overlap of print and cinema.

Then I found out Capote was an oily, narcissistic hanger-on who looked like a refugee from a sex offender program, and the brilliant Robert Blake who played Perry Little in the movie turned out to be (OK, jury’s still out) a murderer!

In adolescence I became interested in “issue” books, and I liked poignant stories of misery and triumph. Diary of Anne Frank. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

And Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird.

Kosinski’s Polish/Jewish/Gypsy protagonist tore my heart out as he drifted through Europe during WWII, witnessing horrors beyond imagining. Abandoned by his family, he had to survive in conditions that would tax a Green Beret. The story was written after an editor at Houghton Mifflin heard Kosinski talk about his Holocaust-era childhood. Kosinski himself was yet another role model for me as a writer, with his “chest-torn-open” candor and his powerful prose. And of course, what an example of courage, given what he had endured. Heck, for me, he was almost another Elie Wiesel.

But Kosinski was a liar. His parents never gave him up; in fact, they adopted another Jewish boy in the northern Poland area where they moved in 1939. What’s more, a searing expose in The Village Voice revealed that he made extensive use of translators and collaborators to write all his books, and that he may have stolen or plagiarized entire volumes of text. Eventually he killed himself.

Now I read confine my reading to People magazine and fortune cookie inserts. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Browning | Link to this Entry


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