Saturday, September 29, 2012

20 books to read before you… 

There's nothing like a list of books to read or movies to watch. The internet is filled with such trivia. My own favourite list for reading books or watching films is the one before you die. Nothing beats it. In fact, Goodreads has a list of 20 books “you must definitely read” before you die. What a shame if you don’t! But why must you read a particular book or watch a specific movie before you kick the bucket? What's the occasion? I can see we're back to square one.

For the heck of it, I compiled my own list of 20 books that I am going to read before I…no, not that…let’s just say in the next two years. I know I'm being overly optimistic. These are titles of books handed down over the past three decades. Actually, my to-be-read list of some of the great books is much longer and so I have put down only those b
ooks I have been wanting to read for a while now. Books that come with high recommendations from all kinds of sources. Books I ought to have read a long time ago. Books I should be rereading now. 

So, what does my Top 20 look like? Take a look below… I might add that I have a vague recollection of having read books 2, 3 & 5 in college though I can't say for sure.

01. Jane Austen — Pride and Prejudice
02. F. Scott Fitzgerald — The Great Gatsby
03. John Steinbeck — The Grapes of Wrath
04. Joseph Conrad — Heart of Darkness
05. George Orwell — 1984
06. J.D. Salinger — The Catcher in the Rye
07. Anthony Burgess — A Clockwork Orange
08. Jack London — The Call of the Wild
09. Fyodor Dostoevsky — The Brothers Karamazov
10. Philip Roth — American Pastoral
11. James Joyce — Dubliners
12. Norman Mailer — The Naked and the Dead
13. Henry Miller — Tropic of Cancer
14. William Faulkner — As I Lay Dying
15. Saul Bellow — The Adventures of Augie March
16. William Styron — Sophie's Choice
17. Leo Tolstoy — War and Peace
18. Oscar Wilde — The Picture of Dorian Gray
19. Gabriel García Márquez — One Hundred Years of Solitude
20. William Golding — Lord of the Flies

Though not a part of the list, I'm going to squeeze in Fountainhead by Ayn Rand as well.

I can hear the authors sniggering—“You didn’t read our books all these years. What makes you think you’re going to read them now? You might as well read them before you…”

Murder on the Orient Express was born here

This is Room 411 in Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in which Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Samuel Ratchett, a passenger on the train.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook (1977) 

Can comic-books be considered as books? Strictly no, unless they're like Stan Lee's The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook. A perfect recipe for Friday's Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase which is being hosted by Todd Mason at his blog Sweet Freedom this week. Check out the two blogs for plenty of FFB action.

Now your kids can cook with the comics! 

As a kid I used to wonder how Superman could drink water, sip wine or eat food when he was made of steel. I don’t think Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ever explained these life-sustaining aspects of their superhero’s life. As a teenager I wondered how the Man of Steel could make love to Lois Lane. Imagine the bionically-challenged Terminator taking a woman to bed…something like that. And as a grown-up I’m still wondering how he’s doing all of the above.

Come to think of it, in the comics Superman is rarely shown drinking or eating let alone making love though in the movie, Superman-II, he (Christopher Reeve) does sleep with his girlfriend (Margot Kidder) on a crystalline bed created out of kryptonite.

Turns out Superman isn’t the only superhero who drinks and eats and burps (let’s forget the sex for now).

A caboodle of Marvel superheroes not only wolf down large quantities of food, they even cook their own food, or so Stan Lee would like us to believe in The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook which is one of the most imaginative comic-book offshoots I have read—and own. Good thing I do: exaggerated as it sounds, used paperbacks of this book cost $124 (Rs.6,200) on Amazon USA and £109.90 (Rs.8,800) on Amazon UK.

A Fireside book published by Simon and Schuster, New York, in 1977, Superheroes’ Cookbook is a 95-page book of everyday recipes by some of Marvel’s leading heroes. Stan Lee claims it’s “the world’s first (and only) superhero cookbook.” It must be—I haven’t come across cookbooks of its kind over the past thirty-five years. At least, I don’t think DC came out with a rival cookbook by the Justice League of America. 

“Our recipes taste and smell Marvel-ous!” Head Chief Captain America proclaims as he takes you through what appears to be a normal cookbook with recipes for five-course meals, kitchen guide, do’s and don’ts, tips and all, except with one significant difference—you feel as if you’re reading a comic-book while browsing through the delectable recipes, which are accompanied by large colourful illustrations of the superheroes as they show off their favourite dishes.

So, for ‘Heroic Breakfast’ you can try out Captain America’s day starters comprising fruit juice pancakes and milk; cereal with milk; or fruit juice, eggs, bacon, toast and milk; or you can have the Hulk’s fried potatoes with bacon and eggs; or the Thing’s clobbered omelette. I can picture his brick-coloured fist pounding the eggs.

You can skip the breakfast and jump to the Fantastic Four’s superhero sandwiches and soups; the Sub-Mariner’s Submarine; The Human Torch’s Fireball; Spider-Man’s Parmigiani; or the Hulk’s Hulkburger.

There are six exclusive Heroic Combos as well, if you like.

If you’re still hungry then you can go for the main meal starting with soups from Dr. Strange’s instant eatery besides Doctor Doom’s Lima Bean Chowder; Thor’s Asgardian Vegetable Soup, Iron Man’s Splendid Split Pea Soup; or Silver Surfer’s Surfboard Sensation.

In the main course you have some mighty recipes consisting of meats, poultry, pasta, and fish. Particularly, Thor’s Cabbage Rolls; Doctor Strange’s Mysterious Stew; Daredevil’s De-Deviled Swiss Steak; Conan’s Kung Fu Chicken; Sub-Mariner’s Magnificent Tuna Bake; the Hulk’s Jumbo Shrimp in a Basket; and Spider-Man’s Seafood Platter.

If these sound a tad boring or if you’re looking for something light on the tummy, then you can have some vegetables and salads in 
the Hulk’s kitchen where you'll find the Fantastic Four enticing you with Zangy Casseroles, Stuffed Peppers, Spinach and Corn Casserole, and Grilled Tomato with Cheese. 

Pasta can hardly satiate the Hulk’s hunger and so the green goliath often has Spaghetti and Meat Balls in between clobbering General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross’ armed lilliputs. He has a simple credo: “Hulk hungry—must feed face.” 

The Marvel gang takes the battle of the palate right to the end with recipes for delicious cakes and cookies, pies and tarts, and desserts and beverages.

The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook has great art and lettering by Joe Giella, a renowned American comic book artist who was on the staff of both DC Comics and Marvel. Presented by Stan Lee, the book is the brainchild of Gene Malis and the recipes are by Jody Cameron Malis of Celebrity Kitchen, Inc.

To round up here’s a tip from the superheroes’ kitchen guide: "Be Neat!! Don’t forget to clean up the mess in the kitchen! It’s easier to clean as you go along than to leave it for later."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Wild Hogs (2007)

A Walt Becker comedy for this Tuesday's edition of Overlooked/Forgotten Films and Television at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check out the other fascinating reviews over there.

Dudley Frank (Tim Allen): What'd you do, Woody?
Woody Stevens (John Travolta): I cut the gas lines of their bikes, and then I maybe blew up their bar. 

I am not a particular fan of John Travolta. I enjoyed Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Staying Alive—musical hits that launched his film career and cast the young, lanky, muscular testosterone-driven actor into public limelight. But those were early days and you can't judge Travolta by the way he danced, swore and grinned widely. A lot of people judge Travolta as an actor from his performances in Pulp Fiction and Face/Off, which left me confused by the end. I couldn't figure out who was Travolta and who was Cage.

Over the years John Travolta, who hails from New Jersey, acted in some fine movies which, amongst the ones I have seen, include The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Wild Hogs, Ladder 49, Swordfish, The Thin Red Line, Primary Colors, Broken Arrow, and Get Shorty. Mum's the word on the Look Who's Talking series—never did like it.

I liked Travolta best in Wild Hogs (2007). He is seriously funny in this riot of a film about four bikers who hit the high road and get into unforeseen trouble with a gang of professional bikers called the Del Fuegos led by the mean, nasty and sneering Ray Liotta.

Woody Stevens (John Travolta) joins his buddies Doug Madsen (Tim Allen), Bobby Davis (Martin Lawrence) and Dudley Frank (William H. Macy) on a bike adventure and end up in a small town whose sheriff, Charley (Stephen Tobolowsky), and his two squabbling partners are too scared to protect from Jack (Ray Liotta) and his gang.

Actually, the Del Fuegos roar into town because they’re after the guy who tampered with their bikes, a guy called Woody. His friends, of course, don’t know anything about it. But when they do, they stand by him, like all good friends. What follows is nearly an hour of sheer fun as Woody and his pals indulge in a good deal of fisticuffs, filibuster and slapstick with the bike gang. And what was meant to be a simple bike adventure nearly turns into a messy affair as the four buddies stand their ground, shaky as it seems under their feet, in defence of the small town and its fun-loving folk.

Pick of the film is the bespectacled and bumbling Dudley Frank (William H. Macy) who is in his element as he spars with the dirt bikers on one hand and courts Maggie (Marisa Tomei) on the other, both with hilarious consequences.

Wild Hogs, see it if you haven't.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sundays without TCM

The days of Turner Classic Movies in India seem to be over. If rumours of the channel’s exit from the country are true then my regular Sunday dose of old Hollywood classics has come to an end. I have been a loyal TCM fan since Turner Entertainment started broadcasting as TNT in India several years ago.

The largely non-commercial movie channel from the Time-Warner stable discontinued its service a few days ago but so far there has been no official word from TCM.

On September 12, Tata Sky, the direct-to-home television service I subscribe to, flashed this terse message: “TCM channel is no longer available on Tata Sky as the telecast of the channel has been discontinued by the broadcaster.”

If TCM has, indeed, pulled out of India then I can only think of two reasons: financial non-viability and lack of popularity. I’m inclined to think it’s the former more than the latter. I’m sure there is no dearth of TCM fans in the subcontinent.

Nearly a fortnight has passed and I’m still feeling the absence of TCM in my living room. As exaggerated as it may seem, the “closure” of the channel is a culture shock. Where do I watch old black-and-white silent-and-sound classic films now? Movies dating back to the 1920s downward and across key genres like romance, musical, war, comedy, western, thriller, and adventure. Buying an occasional DVD is not the same as being able to watching old films round the clock.

MGM is a poor substitute for TCM but then there is almost nothing in common between the two channels. MGM shows some pretty good movies from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s but it lacks the class and charisma of TCM.

On Sunday, I sat down to watch a film or two but there was nothing appetising on the films menu. My restless thumb zigzagged over the remote, from Star Movies to HBO, Zee Studio to Sony Pix, AXN to MGM, and WB to Movies Now, the eight English movie channels beamed in India. And what did I get? Let me see… 

Among the more notable fare, Star Movies telecast Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smith, Speed, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Salt, and Home Alone—all reruns of reruns.

HBO was equally predictable with Yogi Bear, Thor (for lunch and dinner), Sky Kids: The Island of the Lost Dreams, Troy, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.

Zee Studio, a part of the media and entertainment company Zee Group, was none too original either. The channel’s film menu for the day consisted of The Incredible Hulk, the more credible version with Edward Norton as the green goliath, Rambo II & III, Scary Movie 3, and The Sixth Sense.

Sony Pix did better with reruns of Madagascar and Angels and Demons and at least four movies I had never heard of—Underworld: Awakening, Hook, Furry vengeance, and The Eye. I wasn't tempted to watch any.

AXN broadcasts films in between sitcoms and reality shows. Yesterday’s fare included Bicentennial Man and Meet The Fockers. I have seen both and prefer Robin Williams in the former to Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in the latter or its prequel Meet The Parents. There was no saving grace in the Stiller-De Niro films that I could think of. 

MGM showed a few good films most of which I’d seen before, notably Interiors by Woody Allen, The Offence starring Sean Connery, Under Fire with its power-packed cast of Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy, Curse of the Pink Panther with David Niven as the Pink Panther, The French Lieutenant's Woman which proves why Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep are such fine actors, and Triumph Of The Spirit with Willem Dafoe in a compelling role set during WWII. 

WB had only one movie that was worth 120 minutes of your time—Million Dollar Baby—and most of us have already seen it.

Movies Now, owned by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd which publishes The Times of India, vied with Star Movies in the telecast of the reruns, such as, Robocop 2, Marmaduke, Spider-Man 3, Conan the Destroyer, Night at the Museum, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Jurassic Park III. If I were held by the scruff of the neck and forced to watch any one of these films, I’d pick Conan; he’s a fictional and comic-book character I like, a role that fit the  6' 2" Arnold Schwarzenegger like armour. The bunch of oddball characters, including the 7' 1" Bombaata (the late Wilt Chamberlain) and the 5' 10½" Zula (Grace Jones), made this film an enjoyable fare. A tall film by any measure.

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in The Shopworn Angel

For some reason TCM India continues to show its schedule on its website. Here’s what I might have watched on Sunday had the channel still been around…

1. Rose Marie, 1954: Howard Keel and Ann Blyth
2. Random Harvest, 1942: Ronald Colman and Greer Garson
3. Grand Hotel, 1932: John Barrymore and Greta Garbo
4. Mrs. Parkington, 1944: Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson
5. The Clock, 1945: Robert Walker and Judy Garland
6. The Shopworn Angel, 1938: James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan
7. The Moon Is Blue, 1953: William Holden and Maggie McNamara
8. A Farewell To Arms, 1932: Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes

Now compare these films with the ones broadcast by the eight English movie channels and you’ll know why my Sundays are never going to be the same again. I’m hoping Turner Classic Movies does a Turneround, hopefully, by this Sunday.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Opening lines

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel is the best and simplest way.”
— Ernest Hemingway

The opening lines of a book, a mystery, thriller, humour, sf or horror in particular, often tells you whether you are going to like it or not. Now I don’t judge the merit of a novel based on how it begins. It does, however, give me a feel for the book, that, maybe, I can sit back and look forward to a pleasurable read.

I have paid scarce attention to the opening lines in the books I read in the past few years but a casual glance through a pile of secondhand mystery paperbacks I bought recently got me thinking about this challenging aspect of a writer’s narrative.

Flipping through You Live Once by John D. MacDonald, I came across this plain opening:

“I have never awakened easily. I have always had a sneaking envy for those people who seem to be able to bound out of bed, functioning perfectly. I have to use two alarm clocks on work mornings.” 

You don’t know where MacDonald is taking you and vague as the opening lines may seem you want to go with him and listen to his story.

If those lines caught my eye, so did the beginning to Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man No.89.

A friend of Ryan’s said to him one time, ‘Yeah, but at least you don’t take any shit from anybody.’ 

Ryan said to his friend, ‘I don’t know, the way things’ve been going, maybe it’s about time I started taking some.’ 

Then there is Ed McBain who tells it like it is in Jigsaw, which I read last year:

Detective Arthur Brown did not like being called black. 

This might have had something to do with his name, which was Brown. Or his colour, which was also brown. 

How easy—or difficult—is it to write the opening lines in this manner? All the openings are written in a simple, transparent, and original style. A style that entices you to pick up your pen and start writing similarly, only it doesn’t happen, not to everyone at least.

I tried my hand at it and came up with this feeble opening...

Allergic Pharyngitis leaned over the shoulder of a fellow intern and peered into the bloody hole and at the tangled mass of intestines.

“Do you think he was shot?” she asked, without looking up. 

“No, Dr. Pharyngitis, he was carved with a pen knife,” Chief Surgeon Arterio Sclerosis said sarcastically.

Pharyngitis cleared her throat…

 So, what is it going to be—mystery or humour? I don’t have a clue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and The Birdcage (1996)

A couple of comedies for this Tuesday's edition of Overlooked/Forgotten Films and Television at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check out the other fascinating reviews over there.

Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams): Could you make me a woman?
Frank (Harvey Fierstein): Honey, I'm so happy!
Daniel: I knew you'd understand.

What is it about some films that make you want to see them again and again (assuming you do watch a film more than once)? 

What usually inspires me to watch a film twice, maybe more than twice, is the entertainment value, the family quotient, good humour, great music, familiar cast, sound performance, a terrific script…you can toss and turn the order if you like. Mrs. Doubtfire scores on all seven fronts.

Now Robin Williams is a damned good actor and yet I don’t like him in some of his films because he clearly overdoes the acting bit. He’s loud and all over the place. What do you expect? He’s a comedian! Yes, I know. Maybe that’s why I like him more in Patch Adams, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, The Final Cut, Jack…and even Bicentennial Man. I mean we’re not talking Jumanji here, are we? (That one’s for kids…I saw it seven times.)

Whatever…I prefer Robin Williams the actor to Robin Williams the comedian, though I’m willing to make an exception or two—the exceptions being Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and The Birdcage (1996).

Assuming you haven’t seen the second, Mike Nichols, who made The Graduate (1967) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), has done the world of film entertainment and film goers a big favour by bringing Robin Williams, a fun-loving gay cabaret owner, and Gene Hackman, a senator with serious political aspirations, together, in a film that will have you holding your sides. The ebullient Williams and the deadpan Hackman are a rare treat as is the incorrigible Nathan Lane who makes every drag queen proud with his…her….his…well-disguised performance. Actors Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart and Christine Baranski add value to this delightful comedy for the entire family.

We owe Mike Nichols for making The Birdcage, one of the funniest movies of the 1990s. There, I have put my head on the block.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams gives “versatility” a new meaning as the old Chris Columbus hand effortlessly transforms from Daniel Hillard, the just-divorced doting father of three, to Mrs. Doubtfire, the perfect housekeeper to “her” kids—with hilarious consequences. Now you don’t need visitation rights to be with your own kids, do you? All you need is acting skill, a bloody good disguise, a little sophistication, and some funny lines.

Did you know her first name is Euphegenia? Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire…I didn’t catch that even on the eleventh run.

Daniel’s wife Miranda (Sally Field), who struggles to look and sound angry at her out-of-work husband, has a fling with the dashing Stu Denmeyer (Pierce Brosnan) in a passable attempt to get on with her life. Of Brosnan it must be said, here is a gent who can carry humour on his broad shoulders. In the end Daniel wins back his kids, shows Stu the door (in the middle of a family dinner in a restaurant) and proves he is not the loser Miranda thinks he is.

A Robin Williams film can only have a good ending and Mrs. Doubtfire nearly does, albeit with a liberal dose of advice for families that break up. As Mrs. Doubtfire says, “If there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever.”

Highly recommended, if you’ve overlooked or forgotten the film, though I doubt you have. 

While we are on about Mrs. Doubtfire, did you know Bollywood, the land of remakes, came out with a successful Hindi version of the film called Chachi 420 (Aunty 420 or The Trickster Aunt)? Seasoned actor-director Kamal Hassan directed himself in this 1997 film.

Spot the difference: Mrs. Doubtfire and Laxmi Godbole 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sudden Rides Again

He rode a horse as black as night. He wore two guns tied low, the butts worn as smooth as the leather they nestled in. He was a tall, capable man heading into the Arizona badlands, moving towards trouble.

He was James Green: gunfighter, killer, and murderer — a man with the kind of reputation that made men flinch when his eyes met theirs, that stilled hands on their way to holstered Colts.

He was an outlaw, heading for a deadly double-agent's game in an outpost of hell itself!

In case you're figuring out who wrote those lines it was British writer Oliver Strange who, in my opinion, created one of the most memorable fictional characters of the Wild West—James Green alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw. I have read western fiction by numerous authors but nowhere have I come across a more romanticised western gunfighter than Strange’s quiet, brave hero. 

If I were to compare James Green to anyone, off the top of my head, it would be Flint (Louis L'Amour) and Shane (Jack Schaefer).

The above passage is the blurb on the back cover of the fifth book in the series Sudden Rides Again (1938) which begins thus, “It may be that I’m sending you to your death.”

What makes the novels of Oliver Strange so special is that the Englishman, apparently, never travelled to America and wrote about the daring exploits of Sudden from his imagination. As I said in an earlier post on Sudden, the author’s graphic description of the American landscape, its towns, its people, its cowboys, its ranches, and its gunfights is close to the real thing.

I remain fascinated by the Sudden series for another reason: the lingo, the slang, the colloquialism. I don’t know if English in the Wild West was spoken the way Strange tells it in his novels, but I have never come across anything quite like it in other western fiction.

Here are a few samples of conversation from Sudden Rides Again, courtesy Corgi Books:


“I said for yu to put yore paws up,” came a rough reminder.

“Shore yu did, but my hoss needs ’em—he ain’t no catamount,” the other retorted, as he picked a way down the decline. “Allasame, I’d as lief break my neck as be shot.”


(Young Holt to Sudden) “Bin lookin’ for you all over,” he began. “They aim to git you to-night in there—a gunman named Butch has come a-purpose. Muley got drunk this arternoon an’ he’s bin tellin’ everybody to come to yore funeral.”


(Frosty to Sudden) Any idjut can look an’ laff,” he greeted. “Why don’t yu do somethin’, yu perishin’—ornament?”

“The Double K has dispensed with my services,” Sudden reminded. “Anybody out here with you?”


(Sudden to his black stallion) “Nigger, it’s goin’ to be dead easy—to break my fool neck.”


“Ain’t leavin’ us, are you Jim” (the sheriff of Red Rock) asked (Sudden).

“Shore am, an’ sorry to be,” the puncher told him.

“They let you go?’

“It warn’t easy; the Colonel an’ Mart made me han’some offers, Jeff an’ Frosty damn near pulled guns on me, an’ Miss Joan cried, which was wuss’n all.”

“Then why in the nation…?”

“Somebody’s waitin’ for me in Tucson.”

Dealtry thought he understood. “An’ she’ll be anxious, huh?”

Sudden grinned, “Yo’re way off the trail, sheriff. The person waitin’ for me is a shortish, middle-aged fella, with grey hair an’ a persuasive manner. They call him ‘Bleke,’ an’ he can be—times.”

“The Governor?”

“Yeah, an’ he’ll be wonderin’ if he oughta send a wreath.”

“So you’re from him? You kept it mighty close.”

“I’m the third.” He told the fate of his predecessors. “I expect they talked too much.”

The sheriff breathed hard. “An’ we thought he was doin’ nothing,” he said. “I’ll bet he’ll be pleased with you.”

“Just a shake an’ a ‘Well done, Jim
 ,” but I reckon them’s the best words a man can hear in this li’l ol’ world.” 

If you’re familiar with James Green alias Sudden then you’ll know that he isn’t responsible for any of the crimes pinned on him. Folks call him Sudden because he’s fast with his guns and there’s always a gunslinger waiting to prove he isn’t. He is Mr. Dependable who goes from one town to another, one ranch to another, and helps good people fight injustice and evil-doers. You'll enjoy his sardonic humour. Sudden, endowed with boyish good looks, is an honest man who plays straight with friend and foe. He is cool headed and has a unique ability of getting out of a blind alley. He rarely says who he really is. Folks usually discover he is Sudden when he is forced to draw, the bullet from one of his twin guns travelling faster than the eyes can blink. He is often sheriff and seldom mentions that he is also Deputy Marshal United States, a troubleshooter for Governor Bleke of Arizona.  

Behind it all is his true mission: to get the two men who got the man who raised him...a promise he made to a dying man, a promise he keeps in The Range Robbers.

For the uninitiated, Oliver Strange wrote ten Sudden novels while English writer 
Frederick Nolan wrote five more books under the assumed name of Frederick H. Christian and did notable justice to Strange's writing style as well as to the legacy of the Texas outlaw.

Friday, September 14, 2012


A Prairie Infanta (1904) by Eva Wilder Brodhead

This short novel by Eva Wilder Brodhead is my contribution to Friday's Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase. You'll find plenty of good reviews of good books over there.

“Life,” he wrote, was at best “a rough proposition.”

It’s certainly a rough proposition for the Texas-born Keene, who, upon the death of his lovely Mexican wife Margarita, leaves his young daughter Lola in the foster care of a stranger and goes away to a mountain camp, to prospect for coal and, some day, return a wealthy mine owner.

Eva Wilder Brodhead (1870-1915), the American writer and poet, has written a charming story about the love and sacrifice of Miss Jane Combs for the sake of the motherless child Lola, a precocious girl of ten or twelve.

Jane, who lives alone in a shack just outside the little Colorado mining town of Aguilar, is more than happy to take Lola under her wing. She accepts the girl as her own no sooner the local doctor, a kindly man, and Keene besiege her to look after Lola in the latter’s absence.

Understandably, Lola has a streak of rebellion in her—her mother has just passed away and her father has “abandoned” her. She refuses to move in with Jane whom she distrusts and whose house she finds ugly. Instead, she approaches Senora Vigil, a Mexican woman who lives next door with her large family. Being half-Mexican, the girl wants to be with her kind of people. It doesn’t help matters that the Vigils don’t get along with Jane because of a dispute over a piece of land. Jane wants to return it to the Vigils but the law won’t let her.

"I will not go with you," Lola cries.

The Senora, in spite of her affinity with Lola, is reluctant to take the girl in as she has been left in Jane’s care. Nowhere to go, Lola decides to follow her father and runs away from the town but she soon finds herself in trouble—trapped in a deep gorge and on the verge of being swept away in a thunder storm. However, local cowherd Bev Gribble rescues her and takes her back to town where she is restored to Jane.

The next fifty-odd pages of the ebook describes the relationship between Jane and Lola and how the girl eventually realises the true worth of the woman, a complete stranger, who loved and cared for her as she would her own daughter—to the extent that the girl, who grows up into a vibrant teenager, scarcely remembers her own mother and rarely talks about her father’s return.

"I hoped you'd be able to lend me a hand,"
Mr. Keene tells Miss Jane Coombs.

A Prairie Infanta is the tender story of a noble woman whose sacrifices for the well-being of the girl are never too much, a woman who does everything in her grasp and capacity to keep her “daughter” happy. Jane does more than feed Lola or clothe her in finest dress. She also sends the girl to a paid school by mortgaging her house. When Keene fails in his prospect and desperately writes to Jane for funds, which he believes his daughter earns through housework elsewhere, she sends him money from her own meager savings.

Lola, of course, doesn’t suspect a thing. It’s only in the end that the full scale of Jane’s sacrifice is revealed to her, by no less a person than her own father who one day returns as a wealthy mine owner and shares his fortune with Miss Jane Coombs, the “broad, heavy, rugged, middle-aged” gentlewoman of Aguilar.

Lola presents Jane with Tesuque,
the Rain God.

I liked A Prairie Infanta for two things: the characterisation of Jane with her dignified demeanour and the town of Aguilar with its coalmines, adobe church, dirt streets and deep gorges, tall cottonwoods, mud-houses, goat-corrals, and Mexican children. The short novel is also a western story because it is set in a mining town many of whose inhabitants depend on prospecting to become wealthy. The mysterious Eva Wilder Brodhead, whose The Eternal Feminine is also set in Colorado, has written a good story really well. 

Source for A Prairie Infanta: Project Gutenberg

Thursday, September 13, 2012


A Max Brand here, a Mack Bolan there

I haven't done a "Book Buys" post for a while now. For the past few weeks, I have been buying secondhand paperbacks faster than I can read them. I bet I said that the last time around, too. The novels I picked up are in good condition and cost Rs.10 to 20 each [$1 = Rs.50]. I bought multiples of Don Pendleton (Mack Bolan), Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Ruth Rendell, J.R. Roberts (Robert J. Randisi), Colin Dexter, Max Brand, Leo Kessler, and Nick Carter. I bought a few other books too but that would be really stretching it, or showing off, wouldn't it?

Here are some of the paperbacks I couldn't resist buying. The Elmore Leornard cover is the only one that doesn't match. Mine is a Pan Books edition.

Have I started reading any of these or the ones I haven't showcased here? Not yet, because I'm still reading the books I bought the year before last. What's bothering me, though, are the novels I didn't pick up from the old bookstore I drop in on my way home every evening—you seriously don't want to know what I have left behind!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The Flying Deuces (1939)

This Tuesday, I’m going to tempt you into watching a black-and-white Laurel and Hardy classic as part of Overlooked/Forgotten Films and Television at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to read the other fascinating reviews over there.

Oliver: Shot at sunrise!
Stanley: I hope it's cloudy tomorrow! 
[After Stan and Ollie hear the verdict of their execution the next morning.] 

There are quite a few memorable scenes in The Flying Deuces (1939) starring the endearing pair of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The one I liked the most takes place towards the end when Stan and Ollie, who are enlisted in the Foreign Legion in France, sing Shine On, Harvest Moon and break into an impromptu tap-dance before the band and other uniformed members of the unit. 

There is nothing unusual about this scene except that Stan and Ollie do the jig while they are on the run from their commandant (Charles Middleton) and his men: the comic duo is wanted for desertion!

The ludicrous scene lasts just over a minute, as Ollie croons Shine On, Harvest Moon in his distinctive voice, but it’s the cherry on the cake for me. Click on the link below and see for yourself.

The song itself is a popular duet first sung by the husband-wife team of Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1908. It has since been performed by others in film and television, and on stage. 

Stan and Oliver join the Foreign Legion in the hope that it will help Ollie forget Georgette (Jean Parker), the Parisian innkeeper’s daughter he is in love with. 

Stan Laurel, Oliver hardy and Jean Parker 

When Georgette tells him that she already belongs to someone else, Ollie is heartbroken and leaves the inn with a self-portrait, a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates he had gifted the girl.

Back in their hotel room, Stan sits next to his friend and soothes him with tender words of encouragement (imagine that!) even as he pops a few more of the chocolates into his mouth and bumps into things around the room in his inimitable style. The seriousness of any situation is lost on Stan.

Stricken with grief, Ollie decides to commit suicide by drowning himself and he insists Stan come along with him—“After all that I have done for you!” Stan strongly feels otherwise. He whimpers in panic as the two of them prepare to jump into a shark-infested body of water with one end of the rope tied around their waists and the other to a stone. 

But then, an unexpected thing happens. Francois (Reginald Gardiner), a dashing officer in the Foreign Legion, is on patrol duty when he spots Stan and Laurel bungling their way through their imminent suicide. When he hears Ollie’s sad tale, he suggests they join the Legion as it would make him forget Georgette who, as you might have guessed, happens to be Francois’ wife. An elated Stan quickly unties the rope around his waist and drops the heavy stone into the water unmindful of the rope still around his friend—a predictable but funny moment, nonetheless.

Stan and Ollie join the Foreign Legion but trouble erupts when Ollie manages to forget his love and he and Stan decide to call it quits and walk out of the cantonment, as if they were walking out of a restaurant after a hearty meal. The last half-hour of the film is hilarious as the commandant and nearly every man in the unit look for the fleeing pair. They are to be caught and charged with desertion and might possibly have to face a firing squad. But, like I said, the gravity of the situation is lost on Ollie as much as it is on Stan. 

Reginald Gardiner as Francois

There isn’t a Laurel and Hardy film that I haven’t enjoyed since childhood. The Flying Deuces, directed by Edward Sutherland, has all the comic stuff that L&H films are notoriously famous for even though the slapstick humour is along expected lines. Stan and Ollie generate ripples of laughter, unintentionally so, as they bungle their way in and out of situations of their own creation. The two comedians may lack the emotion and sentimentality of Charles Chaplin but they delight you with their shyness and innocence in everything that they do, no matter how adverse their circumstance. I love their way of life. 

Stan and Ollie "bully" the commandant (Charles Middleton)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Robert E. Howard
When Robert E. Howard
got a rejection letter

While Farnsworth Wright was a veteran of World War I and a music critic for the Chicago Herald and Examiner, he was best-known as the firebrand editor of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, a man who often thrust rejection slips into the hands of famous writers and showed them the door. 

Wright regularly published sf, fantasy and horror stories by Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith in Weird Tales. However, he had a difficult relationship with the three authors, as this article tells you. It says, "Wright had a strained relationship with all three writers, rejecting major works by them, such as Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Howard's The Frost Giant's Daughter, and Smith's The Seven Geases (which Wright dismissed as just 'one geas after another')." He also published most of their stories that made them famous.

Here's what Farnsworth Wright thought of Robert E. Howard's story The Frost-Giant's Daughter (1932), an early short story about Conan the Cimmerian which, I believe, was not published in Howard's lifetime. It was published in The Coming of Conan in 1953, seventeen years after he passed away.

© Creative Commons

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Anthologies: Best Ghost Stories, The Haunted Hour, and Devil Stories by various authors

These anthologies are my meagre contribution to Friday's Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

"Mortal, mock not at the devil, life is short and soon will fail, and the 'fire everlasting' is no idle fairy-tale." — Heine (a reference to the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, I think.)

I haven't done a serious review of a forgotten book since Friday, August 10. I have been taking the easy way out by reading and writing about vintage comic-books, in the main the economy series by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (August 23) and To The Last Man by Zane Grey (August 31) and, more recently, a historical work, The Story of the Outlaw, by western author Emerson Hough (September 3). Varied stuff, nonetheless.

This Friday is going to be no different because I still haven't read a forgotten novel. I just finished reading Gun Man by Loren D. Estleman, am nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, have read the initial ten pages of Black Dice by Mack Bolan (Don Pendleton), and am tempted to pick up a Lawrence Block, either A Walk Among the Tombstones or Like A Lamb to Slaughter.

Mack Bolan and his allies, Able Team and Phoenix Force, can be considered as forgotten books except for one thing: people like me still read them. Together with Nick Carter, Ian Fleming, Carter Brown, and James Hadley Chase.

So then, this week I bring you previews of three anthologies I discovered at Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks, which have been kind enough to reserve a permanent seat for me over at their ebook libraries. The anthologies by various authors pertain to ghost stories and they are Best Ghost Stories (1919) with an introduction by Arthur B. Reeve, the American mystery writer; The Haunted Hour (1920), a collection of ghost poems compiled by Margaret Widdemer who doesn’t require an introduction; and Devil Stories (1921) edited by Maximilian J. Rudwin who, I think, is a German writer of fantasy and horror.

All three anthologies have contributions by some of the finest writers known to you and me. Here’s how each of the collections stack up…

Best Ghost Stories
Man is incurably fascinated by the mysterious. If all the ghost stories of the ages were blotted out, man would invent new ones.
Arthur B. Reeve in his introduction

01. The Apparition of Mrs. Veal by Daniel Defoe
02, Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book by Montague Rhodes James
03. The Haunted and the Haunters by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
04. The Silent Woman by Leopold Kompert
05. Banshees
06. The Man Who Went Too Far by E.F. Benson
07. The Woman's Ghost Story by Algernon Blackwood
08. The Phantom Rickshaw by Rudyard Kipling
09. The Rival Ghosts by Brander Matthews
10. The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
11. The Interval by Vincent O'sullivan
12. Dey Ain't No Ghosts by Ellis Parker Butler
13. Some Real American Ghosts

The Haunted Hour
I have not considered as ghost-poems anything but poems which related to the return of spirits to earth.
— Margaret Widdemer in her preface

The Far Away Country by Nora Hopper Chesson

“The Nicht Atween The Sancts An' Souls”
All-Souls Katherine by Tynan
All-Saints' Eve by Lizette Woodworth Reese
A Dream by William Allingham
The Neighbors by Theodosia Garrison
A Ballad of Hallowe'en by Theodosia Garrison
The Forgotten Soul by Margaret Widdemer
All-Souls' Night by Dora Sigerson Shorter
Janet's Tryst by George Macdonald
Hallows' E'en by Winifred M. Letts
On Kingston Bridge by Ellen M.H. Cortissoz
All-Souls' Night by Louisa Humphreys

“All The Little Sighing Souls”
Mary Shepherdess by Marjorie L.C. Pickthall
The Little Ghost by Katherine Tynan
Two Brothers by Theodosia Garrison
The Little Dead Child by Josephine Daskam Bacon
The Child Alone by Rosamund Marriott Watson
The Child by Theodosia Garrison
Such are the Souls in Purgatory by Anna Hempstead Branch
The Open Door by Rosamund Marriott Watson
My Laddie's Hounds by Marguerite Elizabeth Easter
The Old House by Katherine Tynan

Shadowy Heroes
Ballad of the Buried Sword by Ernest Rhys
The Looking-Glass by Rudyard Kipling
Drake's Drum by Henry Newbolt
The Grey Ghost by Francis Carlin
Ballad of Douglas Bridge by Francis Carlin
The Indian Burying Ground by Philip Freneau

“Rank On Rank Of Ghostly Soldiers”
The Song of Soldiers by Walter De La Mare
The Blockhouse on the Hill by Helen Gray Cone
Night at Gettysburg by Don C. Seitz
The Riders by Katherine Tynan
The White Comrade by Robert Haven Schauffler
Ghosts of the Argonne by Grantland Rice
November Eleventh by Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Sea Ghosts
The Flying Dutchman by Charles Godfrey Leland
The Phantom Ship by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Phantom Light of the Baie Des Chaleurs by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton
The Sands of Dee by Charles Kingsley
The Lake of the Dismal Swamp by Thomas Moore
The Flying Dutchman of the Tappan Zee by Arthur Guiterman
The White Ships and the Red by Joyce Kilmer
Featherstone's Doom by Robert Stephen Hawker
Sea-Ghosts by May Byron
Fog Wraiths by Mildred Howells

Cheerful Spirits
Cape Horn Gospel by John Masefield
Legend of Hamilton Tighe by Richard Harris Barham
The Supper Superstition by Thomas Hood
The Ingolds Penance by Richard Harris Barham
Pompey's Ghost by Thomas Hood
The Ghost by Thomas Hood
Mary's Ghost by Thomas Hood
The Superstitious Ghost by Arthur Guiterman
Dave Lilly by Joyce Kilmer
Martin by Joyce Kilmer

Haunted Places
The Listeners by Walter De La Mare
Haunted Houses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Beleaguered City by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Newport Romance by Bret Harte
A Legend by May Kendall
A Midnight Visitor by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Haunted by Amy Lowell
The Little Green Orchard by Walter De La Mare
Fireflies by Louise Driscoll
The Little Ghost by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Haunted by Louis Untermeyer
Ghosts by Madison Cawein
The Three Ghosts by Theodosia Garrison

“You Know The Old, While I Know The New”
After Death by Christina Rossetti
The Passer-By by Edith M. Thomas
At Home by Christina Rossetti
The Return by Minna Irving
The Room's Width by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
Haunted by Don Marquis

“My Love That Was So True”
One Out-Of-Doors by Sarah Piatt
Sailing Beyond Seas by Jean Ingelow
Betrayal by Aline Kilmer
The True Lover by A.E. Housman
Haunted by G.B. Stuart
The White Moth by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
The Ghost by Walter De La Mare
Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson
The Highwayman by Alfred Noye Noyes
The Blue Closet by William Morris
The Ghost's Petition by Christina Rossetti
He and She by Sir Edwin Arnold

Shapes Of Doom
The Dead Coach by Katherine Tynan
Deid Folks' Ferry by Rosamund Marriott Watson
Keith of Ravelston by Sydney Dobell
The Fetch by Dora Sigerson Shorter
The Banshee by Dora Sigerson Shorter
The Seven Whistlers by Alice E. Gillington
The Victor by Theodosia Garrison
Mawgan of Melhuach by Robert Stephen Hawker
The Mother's Ghost by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Dead Mother by Robert Buchanan

Legends And Ballads Of The Dead
The Folk of the Air by William Butler Yeats
The Reconciliation by A. Margaret Ramsay
The Priest's Brother by Dora Sigerson Shorter
The Ballad of Judas by Iscariot Robert Buchanan
The Eve of St. John by Walter Scott
Fair Margaret's Misfortunes, Anon.
Sweet William's Ghost, Anon.
Clerk Saunders, Anon.
The Wife of Usher's Well, Anon.
A Lyke-Wake Dirge, Anon.

Devil Stories
The reader will find between the covers of this book Devils fascinating and fearful, Devils powerful and picturesque, Devils serious and humorous, Devils pathetic and comic, Devils phantastic and satiric, Devils gruesome and grotesque. I have tried, though, to keep them all in good humour throughout the book, and can accordingly assure the reader that he need fear no harm from an intimate acquaintance with the diabolical company to which he is herewith introduced.
Maximilian J. Rudwin in his introduction

01. The Devil in a Nunnery: A Mediaeval Tale by Francis Oscar Mann
02. Belphagor, Or The Marriage of the Devil by Niccolò Machiavelli
03. The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving
04. From the Memoirs of Satan by Wilhelm Hauff
05. St. John's Eve by Nikolái Vasilévich Gógol
06. The Devil's Wager by William Makepeace Thackeray
07. The Painter's Bargain by William Makepeace Thackeray
08. Bon-Bon by Edgar Allan Poe
09. The Printer's Devil, Anon.
10. The Devil's Mother-In-Law by Fernán Caballero
11. The Generous Gambler by Charles Pierre Baudelaire
12. The Three Low Masses: A Christmas Story by Alphonse Daudet
13. Devil-Puzzlers by Frederick Beecher Perkins
14. The Devil's Round: A Tale of Flemish Golf by Charles Deulin
15. The Legend of Mont St. Michel by Guy De Maupassant
16. The Demon Pope by Richard Garnett
17. Madam Lucifer by Richard Garnett
18. Lucifer by Anatole France
19. The Devil by Maxím Gorky
20. The Devil and the Old Man by John Masefield

Since I haven’t reviewed the anthologies here, as I should have, the least I can do is provide you with the links to all three, at Manybooks, right here—Best Ghost Stories, The Haunted Hour and Devil Stories. You can download them in any format you like. Hurrah for Creative License!