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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Lysergically Yours by Frank Duff reviewed by KJR for Bookzen

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ILysergically Yours by Frank Duff reviewed by KJR for Bookzen

"Lysergically Yours" by Frank Duff reads like a cross between Jay McInerney and William Gibson, full of nefarious action and dark characters, all described in a cyber-aware language of grungy, punker realism. Fast-paced, "Lysergically" is a gripping tale of a skateboarding, code hacking, college-aged drug dealer trying to finance his way through university, then trying to save his life. With total non-challance and a discussion of the merits of his theory about such matters, Jerry eats free pizza at the physics lab lunches and impersonates faculty at the chemistry department dinners to make ends meet. He finds himself getting the attention of equally esoteric young punkers also trying to figure an angle on surviving in Toronto, and their introduction to the reader and into the story is surprisingly well paced for a first novel.

Everything is described in the flippant off-handed way of a young person for whom all kinds of amazing details are sliding by way too fast to catch. Particularly rewarding are the humorous if hard headed descriptions of the ways and means of drug dealing and then gambling, including bar room discussions of Dostoyevsky's own thoughts from "The Gambler."

While the novel is reminiscent and evocative of university life, choosing courses, making ends meet, dressing sloppy, drinking beer, and finding a date, this novel is much more than just a gritty campus memoir. It is suspenseful, in both the story line and the pacing, and brought to life by the switching between long, langorous mouthfuls of descriptives to short staccato observations of danger. In its language and creation of suspense in the invisible hacker life underground, "Lysergically" is like the best of William Gibson, morphed with John Grisham ("Pelican Brief").

Possibly it is the author Frank Duff's gift for language, the ability to spit out laconic one-liners that reduces all of life to fast non-idealized transactions that gives the book so much punch. Of course, the plot is so well thought out that it rambles along seemingly aimlessly, with the momentum of a freight train. The word thriller has to be used to describe this novel.

If not messianic, nor utopian, Duff's message is at least vaguely optimistic, that good will prevail, and that the progress enabled by science will touch many lives for the better in the future. There is also the punk embrace of the gritty reality many of us wake to daily, a world of weapons, dirt, greed, violence, and stupidity. As you might guess from the title, there is some of the late Timothy Leary's missionary zeal in the message. "Lysergically Yours" is one of the few books, including Dune Messiah, about the drug-induced ability to see into the future, a talent which is used in that book as well as this to avoid immediate catastrophic danger.

"Lysergically Yours" is available at selected US and Canadian bookstores, online, and as a free text file download at

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

My friend Robert MacLean won the AA short-screenplay contest in Los Angeles-TWICE!

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Bob's latest news:

Dear Family, Friends and Associates, I won the AA short-screenplay contest
in Los Angeles-TWICE! Once would have been plenty. The winners are posted at
and the two-minute script is below for your possible amusement.

It's called DARK IN HERE.The second one, JUST LOOKING, is too long to share
with you at this moment.

In other news, have signed with Dutch drama agent Pieter Vink and Anco Entertainment
to translate and perform some of my plays in Europe and Turkey. They're under
"Auteurs" at

And finally, in addition to the film projects I'm already spending my youth
on, Despina Mouzaki's company Cinegram here in Athens
want to co-produce LINDA, my low-budget comedy about a Greek whore and the American
president, for the international market. We're looking for partners for them.
Best from Bob

Here's the AA winner: DARK IN HERE


A MOTHER and her LOVER are having sex. A NOISE.


Wrapping her robe on, the MOTHER meets her nine-year old SON coming in from

baseball WHACKING his ball into his glove. She kisses him, hugs him and

puts him into a closet.


Her SON stands there in the dark. SOUNDS OF SEX OFF-SCREEN.


The MOTHER and her LOVER are doing it. A NOISE. She looks out the window.


The MOTHER hurries her LOVER into the closet. Her HUSBAND COMES IN the

front door. She hugs him.


The SON and the LOVER stand there. SOUNDS OF TALK OFF-SCREEN.


Dark in here.

(no answer)

I have a baseball.

(no answer)

Want to buy it?

(no answer; makes to leave)

OK, I'll ask my dad.


(holds him there)

How much?


Two hundred and fifty dollars.

Pause. The Lover takes out his money and counts it.


The SON comes in from baseball with the glove. His MOTHER in her robe

kisses him and puts him in the closet.


The SON stands there. The door OPENS and his MOTHER pushes her LOVER in.

They stand there. VOICES OFF-SCREEN.


Dark in here.

(no answer)

I've got a glove.

(no answer)

Want to buy it?


How much?


Seven hundred and fifty dollars.

Pause. The Lover nods and reaches into his pocket.


The SON is on his way out, his FATHER coming in.


Want to throw the ball around?


I sold it. And my glove.


You sold them? For how much?


A thousand dollars.


That's not honest! They're not worth that! I hope you're going to tell

this in your next confession!


The FATHER comes out of a confessional and nods at his SON, who GOES IN.


The SON kneels by the screen.


Dark in here.

NEW ANGLE: we see that the PRIEST is the Lover.


Don't start that shit again.


Read more of Bob's work on his site that I developed
for him.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim - Reviewed by KJR for Bookzen

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"Solitary Summer" is a sunny book full of reflections on nature, books, authors, society, and gardening. If you remove the references to horse carts, these memoirs of Elizabeth von Arnim might be those of a contemporary suburban matron living with her children and wealthy husband in a large house far out in the country in the US or Europe. But this is not a contemporary story, and the narrator is an aristocrat circa 1900 with education, freedoms, wealth and comforts much rarer in her own day than in ours. Some of her discussions about the poor people in the local village betray her aristocratic roots. I think to a modern reader, she like Henry David Thoreau, whom she reads and idolizes, will seem a bit politically incorrect, but only just a bit.

In the main, her comments about people who do not enjoy thoughtful books, who do not enjoy nature, or who do not enjoy the life of the mind would ring true in any age. Like most true intellectuals, she is a rebel and a non-conformist, and has the ability to laugh at herself and her foibles. After experimenting with her unorthodox ways of gardening and child rearing, more often than not she returns to doing it the traditional way. Yet through her chaotic missteps, she learns and explains to us why the old ways may be the best.

I found her many reflections refreshing. It was fun to share her life. Her writing style is very accessible, friendly, and open. Essentially, these are the memoirs of a woman who is seeking consciously to know herself better through the peace and relative solitude of a summer spent wandering in her large garden and the surrounding fields.

At the end, as the cold rains of October pelt the windowpanes, she confides to her older, stoic husband that she doesn't know herself any better for her summer strolls, though she appreciates herself and women in general more. As readers, we probably appreciate her more, too, and wish that there were more volumes of her sound reflections on the nature of life and happiness for us to read.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Cell Book, Mo Book

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Chinese author moves into texts

A Chinese author is writing a novel aimed to be transmitted in text message-size chunks.

Qian Fuchang has reduced his novel Outside the Fortress Besieged into 60 chapters of 70 characters each, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.via..BBC

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Monday, July 12, 2004

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser - Reviewed by KJR for Bookzen

"An American Tragedy" is about a youth trying to escape the suffocation of poverty and intellectual abuse in pursuit of the American Dream. Though the reason for escape is sound, the dream to which he aspires is ephemeral at best, available to few, and appreciated and understood by even fewer. "An American Tragedy" bears much resemblance to Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," though the crimes are more minor and, possibly ironically, the punishment more harsh in twentieth century America than in nineteenth century Russia.

I wish I had read this book when I was 16 or 17 to wise me up, though it might have been considered hackneyed and trite by the oh-so-sophisticated 60's-era teachers at my schools in the proper, snobbier, wealthier suburbs surrounding Boston. Like those in the Bush White House, I was not from the pages of "A Separate Peace" or "Catcher in the Rye." Like Clyde Griffiths in this book, I was raised in a born-again religious right American family, and my father was still teaching Bible class and Sunday School some fifty years later.

The tragedy, which by implication Dreiser thinks is a peculiarly American one, concerns the attempt of a young man, a boy of only about 13, who can pass for 15 because of his size, attempting to free himself from the suffocating constraints of the church mission where his parents care for and preach to the indigent. And unlike his associates who have taken jobs as bellhops at the largest and grandest hotel in Kansas City to make ends meet, for Clyde, this job is not just a means to a fast buck or a way to feed himself: being a bellhop is the first step on the road to opportunity and access to such things as fancy clothes and powerful motorcars. Like the Tom Cruise character in "Heaven Can Wait," who buys lots of hats to proclaim his success as a boxer in 1880's Boston, Clyde buys himself slacks and sweaters, coats and hats to proclaim that he is on his way. He even begins lavishing expensive clothes on his unappreciative floozy girlfriend, to the extent that he cannot loan money to his older sister, who having earlier run away from home herself, shows up again later abandoned and pregnant. Ironically, it is the unconditional love of his mother, which he originally found so suffocating, that sustains and nurtures Clyde at the end.

Involved in a joy ride in a stolen car that ends tragically, Clyde creates a new life for himself in another city, only to feel trapped again within a couple of years when his girlfriend becomes pregnant. The pregnancy occurs just as Clyde has met the love of his life, an attractive, upperclass young woman whose family has a summer house on the lake.

It is his intense desire to be free at virtually any cost, his obsession with freedom and access to the good life that he sees around him, that eventually costs Clyde his freedom. As with Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment," Clyde never doubts his guilt or tries to deny it. He believes rather that it was his own stupidity that led to his feeling caught in a situation in which he even began to seriously contemplate a crime. This endless fascination with the crime itself as a means of escape he blames on his having been found out. Unable to defend himself, Clyde cannot escape the prejudices of a legal system wanting to make an example of him, and is a victim of the political ambitions of law enforcement officials seeking to show themselves tough on crime in an election year. As such, "An American Tragedy" could be considered an argument against capital punishment.

As a book written in 1925 about life in the American Midwest of 1910 or so, this book, with its descriptions of roadhouse bars, stolen cars, juke boxes, electrically illuminated marquees, telephone calls, and political corruption, feels very modern. I thought before reading this book that fatal car accidents and teenagers racing fast cars was the province of the 1950's and of James Dean and Marlon Brando. Not so; they were doing it back when Brando's grandmother was a girl.

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Saturday, July 10, 2004

August evening

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West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim (conductor/piano)
Barbican Concert Hall, London EC2
Wednesday 4 August 2004, 7.30 p.m.

The London Review of Books is delighted to bring the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under their conductor Daniel Barenboim to the Barbican on 4 August to celebrate the work of Edward Said, who died in September last year.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Support the National Trust by visiting one of their wonderful properties

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The National Trust young writers competition

The National Trust young writers competition

Are you under 18 with an eye for a story?

Our historic houses and beautiful countryside properties teem with thrilling, mysterious, spooky and romantic stories. Now the National Trust and Young Writer magazine are offering a fantastic prize for the best stories or poems inspired by a visit to a Trust property.

The two age categories are 7-11 and 12-18.
Closing date for entries is 31 August 2004.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

"Summer" by Edith Wharton, reviewed by KJR for Bookzen

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Like many of her books, "Summer" by Edith Wharton is a commentary on manners, social classes and life's circumstances. Typically, she touches on the more comfortable echelons of society, though it was surprising to me how deeply she delved into the very poverty-ridden outer margins of society. We see here a "misalliance," a briefly joyous-seeming fling that becomes life changing, and then life threatening. In "Summer," set around 1900, a solitary young woman, possibly abused as a small child, now sheltered by her guardian to the point of being limited, lives in a remote and isolated New England town. She is bored to the point of suffocation. As June's warm breezes caress her, she meets a young man who is better educated, with much wider opportunities than anything she has experienced or indeed, can even really imagine. This is the dark story of a romance, the warmth and promise of which fades as autumn nears. Though for the more aware reader, and for our heroine, Charity Royall herself, the promise will have always been illusory.

From the perspective of the seasonal title, the story is a bit of a "midsummer nights dream." There are scenes of festive homecoming celebrations, dances, fourth of July fireworks on the big lake, kissing in the field above the town, and bicycling to a secret rendezvous deep in the woods. Yet, however pleasant and optimistic are the events of summer, more robust preparations for the cold winds and snow that will surely follow when fall turns to winter must be taken. As the scene turns to autumn, it clearly becomes time for people to pick up their lives again where they had left them, as much as is possible.

This "preparation for the cold of winter" theme itself is something of a cultural shibboleth, that which distinguished the cultures of warmer climes from those of colder climes. This tradition is quite ancient and embedded in the more temperate, as opposed to tropical, cultures. Because the book harps on this theme allegorically, it is something of a morality tale, a warning on many levels against too much summery optimism.

Hinging as it does on the changing seasons, the book treats us to many descriptions of summer weather, of the trees and plants and shifts in the light and temperature as June fades away into September. These climatic changes become thematic, light-hearted at first, then dire, chill and even ironic as we near the conclusion.

Though worse disasters are avoided, and while the main characters console themselves with the brighter sides of mere survival, this book is also about how trapped some of us are, about how difficult, dangerous, and even disastrous it is for us to move beyond our assigned realms. Though there are cheery moments, loving scenes, and beautiful descriptions of nature throughout, this is a book full of foreboding, of misfortune, if not of tragedy, on the verge of happening. This book is a reminder of how confining, desperate, barren, and even grisly life can be, and of how close some of us are to that thin outer edge much of our lives.

I found this a sobering, grim tale, never an escapist, happy or uplifting book. In fact it is a bit of a strange tale, never really engaging, though I must admit, after stumbling into it, enticed by the sunny-sounding title and the author's reputation, I did find myself drawn in, feeling a bit sympathetic with the characters, and curious as to the outcome.

The young woman from the country who might find herself in danger from the more sophisticated, perhaps callous, if not irresponsible gentleman, is a theme that rings through the literature of England, America and France for at least the last 400 years. It seems to have become irrelevant in our modern age, though, since we do not see it so much nowadays, not since John O'Hara's 1950's "Butterfield Eight." Maybe after 1972 and Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" it is thought to be no longer relevant in the West, though I suspect it is still relevant in less developed cultures where women's rights, equality and freedom are still more in question, perhaps in South America, Asia, the Middle East, or Africa.

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Sunday, July 04, 2004

If you aren't going to the British Grand Prix next weekend , go to LA

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Swink invites you to celebrate the Lying, Cheating & Stealing online theme issue:

Sunday, July 11th

1644 Elevado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026 (in Silverlake)

Reading starts at 7:00 pm
Celebration starts at 8:00 pm

Open bar

Please RSVP to or at 310.861.5996

Swink is a new L.A. NY literary magazine.

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We the Media : Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People
We the Media : Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People By Dan Gillmor
Grassroots journalists are dismantling Big Media's monopoly on the news, transforming it from a lecture to a conversation. Not content to accept the news as reported, these readers-turned-reporters are publishing in real time to a worldwide audience via the Internet. The impact of their work is just beginning to be felt by professional journalists and the newsmakers they cover.
In We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, nationally known business and technology columnist Dan Gillmor tells the story of this emerging phenomenon, and sheds light on this deep shift in how we make and consume the news. [Full Description]
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