Sunday, October 23, 2005

Flyboys : A True Story of Courage

FLYBOYS is the most compelling and involving book I have read in quite some time. James Bradley follows his best-selling Flags of Our Fathers with this comprehensive Pacific War-themed history.

The focus is primarily on a small group of men: nine American Navy and Marine aviators who were shot down off the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima in February 1945, and their respective Japanese captors and executioners.

In the process, Bradley not only gives a masterful history of the Pacific War, but he traces the history of the cultures of the two opposing countries that led to the racial attitudes which both sides brought to the war. He documents the cold blooded atrocities committed by the American and Japanese military forces against millions of non-combatant civilians as well as captured combatants.

There is much about the United States incursion into Tokyo Bay in 1853 and Japan’s Pacific islands that I knew little about, and I daresay that many America Firstists either don’t know about or don’t want to know about. But the seeds of WWII were planted there and were fertilized by human blood in the battles to come.

As with any meaningful history, FLYBOYS is a capsule biography of the participant people. Bradley defines these people with recognizable, rich, dreadful and poignant characteristics. His writing style is lean, clean, unaffected but affecting, without ever draping his subject with verbal embellishments or melodramatic flourishes. Yet, if you can finish the book with dry eyes, please let me know.

Friday, October 21, 2005


That's for Existential 5, the phenomenally smooth ride between L.A. and S.F.

I-5 generally gets bad-mouthed as a boring drive, but not by me. Sitting behind a wheel that needs almost no steering, over an engine purring smoothly under Cruise Control, with no views of changing landscape to distract him, there is little for the driver to do but reach down inside himself and meet the existential creature who is usually hiding there under blankets and coverlets of busyness.

I made the run from L.A. to Berkeley and S.F. - and back - last weekend. When my friend Travis, in Oakland, asked me how was the drive up, I told him I hadn't had a better six hours all year. And I still had the drive back to look forward to.

I made the run from L.A. to Berkeley and S.F. - and back - last weekend. When my friend Travis, in Oakland, asked me how was the drive up, I told him I hadn't had a better six hours all year. And I still had the drive back to look forward to.

The landscape doesn't change much in nearly 400 miles, but I do have my landmarks and touch-points.

This is just past the bottom of the Grapevine where the 5 splits from the old 99

San Francisco or Bakersfield, It's your choice.

If you take I-5,

this is what you get.

and this

and some more of this

Eventually you get an appealing sight like this recreation of a Mexican mission.

Plus glimpses of the great Pat Brown's thirst quenching waterway.

And you know when you've left the Introspective E-5 when you see the windmills turn on your way to the coast.

And Trav, the ride back was just as good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is a great 20th century American writer. He wrote a string of pulp fiction novels in the 1950s that are unequaled in quality and quantity.

Excuse me, I am going to have to qualify that claim. I love literature, history, biography and fiction and have read many wonderful and satisfying books, but I have to say that Jim Thompson is the greatest writer of American fiction --- maybe ever.

When I first discovered Thompson about thirty years ago, he was dead, buried and so were his books. All of them out of print. But thank --- God--? there are libraries, where I had already found many intriguing short stories of the inimitable Dashiell Hammett. But Jim Thompson is now back in print. And I know that my hounding book stores to stock some tentative printings of THE KILLER INSIDE ME in the mid 80s led to further re-prints and an eventual explosion of Thompson titles. And also to a spate of motion pictures.

THE GRIFTERS wasn't bad, but generally the American films were a total bust. The French, however, seemed to really grasp Thompson. Not too surprisingly, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER was taken from a David Goodis novel, as have been many of the French and Japanese crime thrillers.

But the French cinema really did itself proud with COUP DE TORCHON and SERIE NOIR. You will never see a film more intriguing, spellbinding, shocking and heartbreaking than these; unless possibly a Frenchman will adapt SAVAGE NIGHT, which is the most Jim Thompson novel of them all. I would love to read it again, but am a bit too faint of heart.

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