Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Was a Bitch

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
- Old Testament, Song of Solomon, 2:11, 12

March is not leaving Illinois without a fight. It lingers like a gasping battler, nearly spent but holding on for that last punch. There’s a sheet of thin ice on Crystal Lake and the geese and ducks congregate at the edge to gossip about warm thermals and faraway fields. Jan and I walked along the lakefront snapping pictures, hands stuffed in our pockets to keep warm. I worked all morning on two stories I’m writing, one of which will make the rounds of mainstream publishers when it’s completed in a year. The air was cold but refreshing and I returned to my den to work again on those stories, lost in another time and fighting battles I know I can win. I thought to share some of the photos I took today as an interlude on the digital highway.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kane’s War by Nick Stone

Kane’s War was a late 80s series that ran about six books, possibly more. I only read # 4 and # 6. I would have read more but I never saw the other titles. I’m assuming Nick Stone is a pseudonym. I have no other information about this series or its author, and when I googled it I found very little. What I can tell you is that I enjoyed the two books I read. Kane’s War # 4 Crackdown is a fast and enjoyable thriller. The setup: Ben Kane runs a charter boat service in the Caribbean that includes a fleet of Laser speedboats. Kane is a Vietnam vet seeking peace and solitude, but the Caribbean drug trade rubs him the wrong way. In # 4 Crackdown he sets his sights on the Cuban cocaine trade which has become a billion dollar operation, Recruited by a mysterious agent named Weaver, Kane plunges into an action packed adventure that is brutally violent. The action is all in the fashion of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and even the Nick Carter Killmaster series. As you would expect, there’s just enough raw sex with a beautiful woman to keep you turning the pages. The writing is logical and paced according to the genre. The sex is a welcome diversion from the suspense and action, as it should be. Kane’s War # 6 Dead Heat pits Kane against a group of killers who are trying to fix a sailing race. These two titles also reminded me of the Mack Bolan series. Kane has his own team of men at his side and the mysterious Weaver is somewhat like Hal Brognola from the Bolan books. Looking them over again recently I enjoyed them just as much the second time. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Fragrance of Grass by Guy de la Valdene

“For fundamental reasons of survival, animals don’t follow insane leaders, only men do.”             - The Fragrance of Grass, Guy de la Valdene, p. 54

The Russell Chatham cover will immediately remind readers of Jim Harrison’s novels because Chatham’s painting are found on the covers of all of his books. This is no coincidence for Guy de la Valdene is a friend of Harrison and Thomas McGuane, two of America’s great living novelists. The connection is pointedly made by the epigram that proceeds the text – a quote by Jim Harrison that provides this book its title: “Between the four pads of a dog’s foot, the fragrance of grass.” Guy de la Valdene is one of perhaps three or four sportsman today that can write so vividly about hunting that you’ll want to clean your shotguns and pack up your gear for a day in the field. That this book is a memoir about hunting will be unsettling to any vegetarians reading this post, but I am unsympathetic. We live in a visceral world where the moronic executives of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) gorge themselves in New York’s finest restaurants on steak and lobster before making a commotion when movie stars are photographed wearing fox-fur coats. But I digress; to the heart of the matter: The Fragrance of Grass is a beautifully written book. It is compelling in every sense, and de la Valdene makes no excuses for his favored sporting activity. And lest one think he doesn’t have a heart then you are mistaken. He talks openly about the brutality of killing; “The surrender of a bird to its death, a concession to pain and terror, is not to be confused with art unless one is a fan of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.” (p, 207) But de la Valdene is, after all, a realist, and the book concludes with a fascinating collection of recipes for partridge. The Fragrance of Grass is a marvelous book; inspiring because of its quality writing and memorable because of the stories it tells. The book is poignant and filled with a deep understanding and appreciation for life. This one goes on a special bookshelf in my den, up there with Theodore Roosevelt, Tom Davis, Peter Hathaway Capstick and Robert Ruarke.

Monday, March 18, 2013

River Notes by Wade Davis

 “There can surely be no greater crime against nature than to cause the death of a river, and no greater gesture of restitution than to facilitate its regeneration.”
- Wade Davis, River Notes,  p 73.
Wade Davis is Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and author of numerous best-selling books, notably The Serpent and the Rainbow and Into the Silence. I stumbled upon River Notes quite by accident in Barnes & Noble and immediately bought it. Sometimes the best books are the ones that don’t get much national exposure. So it is with River Notes. This short but fine book is published by Island Press, a non-profit whose stated goal is “To reach targeted audiences...who can and will take action to protect the plants and animals that enrich our world, the ecosystems we need to survive, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.” Being familiar with Davis’ work, I find myself purchasing his books without hesitation and I am never sorry that I did. River Notes is a long essay that blends history, science and observation into a compelling study of one of America’s greatest natural resources. There are a few maps but no photographs, and as such that makes the prose all the more important. Wade Davis never disappoints. His writing is intelligent, often beautifully descriptive and imminently insightful. Also recommended: Grand Canyon: A River at Risk, text by Wade Davis with photographs by Chris Rainier.