The early sixties, a golden era for American literature

As I approach the end of a re-read of Catch-22 I am again reminded of, and astonished by, the incredible literary wealth of the first few years of the ’60s. Talented authors took on big issues, and achieved novels that commanded wide readership. Everything from Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. These novels frequently exhibited an optimism and hopefulness that was characteristic of the time (at least some of the time). Did the Cuban missile crisis snuff it out? The Kennedy assassination? Was this just the death rattle of the fifties? Even Faulkner had a hopeful message in his Nobel acceptance speech. We seem so much more sophisticated and cynical now. We have so much more, and seem so sad.

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Warren Adler on Amazon reviews:

A modest, informed view on de-corrupting online reviews:

http://www.warrenadler.com/how-to-fix-amazons-review-system.shtml

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I recently read the first twenty-five pages of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, having some thought of re-reading the whole thing. What struck me was the question of whether Le Carre became stylistically more adventurous in his later work, or whether due to his huge commercial success he was freed of editorial restraint. Compare a temporal transition early in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:

“It had been from the start a day of travail.”

to one early in The Night Manager:

“Another film cut, and they were traversing the great hall to the tune of “When I Take My Sugar to Tea,” played by Maxie the pianist to two old ladies in gray silk.”

So disconcerting to me, as if Cormac McCarthy abruptly switched to the style of Tom Wolfe. I’m sure he could probably pull it off, but I’m equally sure that he’d never care to.

By the way, a terrific post on Cameron Crowe’s web site about Joni Mitchell in Her Own Words, by Malka Marom: http://www.theuncool.com/2014/11/25/joni-mitchell-in-her-own-words-an-excerpt/#more-9493

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The Eternal Contract

I’m receiving a bit of attention for work I did in 1983. There’s a documentary film being shown at the Sundance Festival next month, “The 414s,” that’s about a group of young computer hobbyists in Milwaukee that I investigated over thirty years ago. It was the FBI’s first hacker case, and it was my first experience with a media feeding frenzy. For the most part my name was kept out of it back then. I was the affiant for a search warrant that was made public, but the attention was on the story of the hackers. One of the young hackers got his picture on the cover of Newsweek.

The producer of the film, Chris James Thompson, phoned me one day a couple of years ago, and told me about his project. He wanted to interview me on camera. As I’ve done with my novels about fictional FBI Agent Rob Hanson, The Magician’s Secrets and Devil’s Oath, I did what I’m obligated to do by a contract I signed at least twice, once upon joining the FBI and again just prior to retirement. I followed the mandated policy of pre-publication review. I asked the FBI’s permission to grant the interview.

The FBI said “yes” with a set of instructions regarding what I must say (that I was not speaking on behalf of the FBI), and what I couldn’t say (I was to reveal no secrets). Chris and his crew showed up a few months later, and for the three or so hours I was “on camera” I did my best to stay within bounds. There were still details, thirty years after the fact, I felt obligated to keep to myself.

I haven’t timed it, but I estimate I’m on screen less than a minute. And that’s quite enough. I handled a difficult assignment (mostly due to the novelty of the crime, at the time) competently, and that’s what FBI Agents are supposed to do.

It did remind me, though, of FBI Agents and other federal employees who for various reasons fail to comply with the pre-publication review requirements. For example, just about every retired agent who shows up as an “expert” in this or that on news broadcasts. And many who’ve authored books about their work, fiction and non-fiction. The ones who do it for fame and fortune distress me.

My emotions are much more mixed regarding the whistleblowers. Mark Felt, aka “Deep Throat,” brought down John Mitchell and Richard Nixon. Technically, he didn’t violate the policy since he had authority as Deputy Director to approve his own releases. He did, though, keep the fact that he was the source from the Director and the Attorney General. Coleen Rowley and Frederick Whitehurst put their jobs on the line when they, after pursuing internal channels with little success, revealed to the public flaws they perceived in counter-terrorism investigations (Rowley) and laboratory forensic procedures and testimony (Whitehurst).

And then there’s Edward Snowden. Mark Felt only had to trust Woodward and Bernstein for his protection. Snowden has to trust Putin for his. Although many do, I believe we should not judge the whistleblowers too quickly.

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Half-price sale

The Kindle price of all three of my novels, Double Feature Boy, Devil’s Oath, and The Magician’s Secrets, have been cut in half to $2.99 each. Happy Holiday Reading!

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Serious Writing

Three serious works, all three brief and insightful, that seem at times largely forgotten, are Camus’ The Fall, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and Willa Cather’s Death Comes For the Archbishop. They each look to “foreign” cultures for insights with regard to our own, with a focus on religion or its lack. They are all favorites that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Cather:

“When they left the rock or tree or sand dune that had sheltered them for the night, the Navajo was careful to obliterate every trace of their temporary occupation. He buried the embers of the fire and the remnants of food, unpiled any stones he had piled together, filled up the holes he had scooped in the sand. Since this was exactly Jacinto’s procedure, Father Latour judged that, just as it was the white man’s way to assert himself in any landscape, to change it, make it over a little (at least to leave some mark of memorial of his sojourn), it was the Indian’s way to pass through a country without disturbing anything; to pass and leave no trace, like fish through the water, or birds through the air.”

Wilder:

“The Archbishop knew that most of the priests of Peru were scoundrels. It required all his delicate Epicurean education to prevent his doing something about it; he had to repeat over to himself his favorite notions: that the injustice and unhappiness in the world is a constant; that the theory of progress is a delusion; that the poor, never having known happiness, are insensible to misfortune. Like all the rich he could not bring himself to believe that the poor (look at their houses, look at their clothes) could really suffer. Like all the cultivated he believed that only the widely-read could be said to know that they were unhappy. On one occasion, the iniquities in his see having been called to his notice, he almost did something about it. He had just heard that it was becoming a rule in Peru for priests to exact two measures of meal for a fairly good absolution, and five measures, for a really effective one. He trembled with indignation; he roared to his secretary and bidding him bring up his writing materials, announced that he was going to dictate an overwhelming message to his shepherds. But there was no ink left in the inkwell; there was no ink left in the next room; there was no ink to be found in the whole palace. The state of things in his household so upset the good man that he fell ill of the combined rages and learned to guard himself against indignation.”

Camus:

“I had to submit and admit my guilt. I had to live in the little-ease. To be sure, you are not familiar with that dungeon cell that was called the little-ease in the Middle Ages. In general, one was forgotten there for life. That cell was distinguished from others by ingenious dimensions. It was not high enough to stand up in nor yet wide enough to lie down in. One had to take on an awkward manner and live on the diagonal; sleep was a collapse, and waking a squatting. Mon cher, there was genius—and I am weighing my words—in that so simple invention. Every day through the unchanging restriction that stiffened his body, the condemned man learned that he was guilty and that innocence consists in stretching joyously. Can you imagine in that cell a frequenter of summits and upper decks? What? One could live in those cells and still be innocent? Improbable! Highly improbable! Or else my reasoning would collapse. That innocence should be reduced to living hunchbacked—I refuse to entertain for a second such a hypothesis. Moreover, we cannot assert the innocence of anyone, whereas we can state with certainty the guilt of all. Every man testifies to the crime of all the others—that is my faith and my hope.”

In the face of a binary extremism in the interpretation of Islam (one can “voluntarily” embrace Islam or be put to death–no exceptions), we need to understand and exercise, while respecting those who have made different choices while refraining from imposing theirs on us, our embrace of freedom of choice. We need to recognize what’s worth fighting for, and what’s worth fighting against. That is perhaps the critical moral issue for the world.

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Warren Adler on Amazon’s Review System

An informed, well-reasoned post on de-corrupting online reviews:

http://www.warrenadler.com/how-to-fix-amazons-review-system.shtml

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