Larry McMurtry trilogy

This is a Page Turners from the Past Three-Fer! The reading of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show led to his Texasville and then to the last of what the literati call a trilogy—Duane’s Depressed!

The Last Picture Show book cover

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The Last Picture Show
Simon & Schuster (1966)

If you like coming of age novels and haven’t read the novel or seen the film, then start right at the beginning and read The Last Picture Show. It’s set in the 1950s in Thalia, a butt ugly little Texas oil town where frankly there isn’t much going on. Oil rigs work the dusty prairie, young high schoolers—co-protagonists Duane and Sonny, best friends—shoot pool, drink beer and play on the football team. They sleep in class and stir long enough for both of them to fall in love with Jacy Farrow, the prom queen. And all of this plays around Thalia’s “cultural centers,” an old movie hall where the population watches classics from the 50’s—kids make out in the balcony, the elders enjoy Ronald Reagan and Grace Kelly. And then there’s the pool hall.  Owned by a solid citizen named The Lion, it is where Thalia’s male population gathers to chew, spit, drink, talk sex, shoot a lotta bull and a little pool.

The novel is funny sad, and sexy. In Thalia, sex trumps football as the town’s favorite sport with the citizens playing out their “attractions” with little or no feelings. Read More »

Double Play

Double Play by Robert Parker book cover

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by Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (2004)

My favorite drink is a big ice cold glass of water, one you can chug down in a single gulp. Almost all of Robert B. Parker’s novels read just like that—a refreshing ice cold drink on a hot summer’s day.

And then there’s Double Play, which isn’t what you’d call heavy, but a read that goes down more like a couple of shots of gin over ice. It’s one you’ll want to read a bit slower and certainly one to sip and savor.

As much as I enjoy Parker’s Spencer, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall novels, this one comes at us out of right-field (or at least the right side of the infield) and with a wonderful premise.

One doesn’t have to be a baseball wonk to know that Jackie Robinson came to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, broke the color barrier and in doing so helped not only integrate major league baseball but also stole the first base for America’s integration.

You didn’t have to see him play (which I did in Ebbets Field in ’56) or have interviewed the man who threw him the very first pitch (Johnny Sain) which I have, to know the back story.

Robinson played for years with not only his dignity but his life on the line. There were death threats in almost every ballpark he played in during those early years.

So here comes Parker with Double Play. Read More »

Neither Here Nor There

bill bryson neither here nor there

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by Bill Bryson
Avon Books (1992)

Years and years ago when I managed my first steps at the early age of ten months (thank you very kindly) I had no idea where they would take me. Here’s how it’s played out over seven decades—from toddle, to walk, to jog, to run, back to jog, to walk, to two hip replacements that whipsawed me back to a limp-like toddle.

That’s the physical history of my perambulation and I miss the walking years more than yes, even Bill Bryson, knows.  I’m not motoring around in the four wheeled Rascal of cable infomercial fame yet but I’m kicking the tires and so it’s my habit today to perch on my sun deck reading Bryson’s walkabout/travel books with an addiction that would make any cocktail psychologist worth their fourth drink slur the word vicarious.

For those who loved Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS, well think of me as his stationary beer sipping, page turning Katz. The man takes me on walks that are so incredibly satisfying, entertaining, educational, and downright laugh-out-loud funny that frankly these jaunts have eased the pain of this once-upon-a-time perambulator.

In that walk in the woods we climbed along the Appalachian Trail. The two of us have ambled across Britain (Notes From A Small Island and The Road To Little Dribbling), sauntered around Europe (Neither Here Nor There), hiked the outback of Australia (In A Sunburned Country) and strode manfully through Africa (Bill Bryson’s African Diary).

The man’s a marvel—curious, witty, insightful, educational and observant with a walking stick in hand that never misses an opportunity to poke deserving targets that we can relate to— regardless in what far off land he hits these bulls’ eyes. Bryson misses nothing—people, politics, weather, history, culture, architecture, art, museums, maps, language, transit, tourists, restaurants, food, waiters, weather (it rains a lot in Europe), pickpockets, prostitutes, pubs, pigeons, and hotels. Oh, all the while painting poetic word pictures of the landscape he’s crossing that make me want to climb off that deck of mine and well, take a hike!

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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

Primary Colors book cover

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by Anonymous (later revealed as Joe Klein, a NY Times columnist)
Random House (1996)

Just when we think we can’t stand to watch another insulting political debate, listen to one more second of biased talk radio, watch the TV networks TRUMP HUMP, “enjoy” the clown show that has become the run for the U.S. Presidency in 2016, Page Turners from the Past has to dig up Primary Colors. The incredible and credible “faction” not only gives us remarkable insights into the inter working of one of America’s favorite sports – a Presidential political campaign – it presents us with a look into the complexity of the characters who run for the highest offices of the land and the people who steer them along the way.

The novel, commonly referred to by the more literary as a roman a clef, is in fact that: a work of fiction that thinly describes real characters (Bill Clinton) and events (his first run for the Presidency), and has been compared to political classics like All the King’s Men and O: A Presidential Novel.

This beautifully crafted insightful novel takes us on a merry ride (loaded with laughs) along with a governor from an unheard of southern state through the perils of the primaries, and all the backroom and upfront politicking—glad-handing, debates, fund-raising, negative TV ads, dirt digging, deal making, touching and feeling – right to the door steps of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Read More »

Every Little Crook and Nanny: A Novel

Every Little Crook and Nanny book cover

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by Evan Hunter
Doubleday and Company (1972)

Were Salvatore Albert Lombino, who wrote so prolifically under Ed McBain, as well as his legally adopted name Evan Hunter and numerous other pseudonyms—John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Eras Hannon, Dean Hudson, and Marsten—still alive and asked to name the novel that he enjoyed writing the most, he might just say EVERY LITTLE CROOK and NANNY.

Not his best and certainly not his bestseller. This, after all, was the man who wrote The Blackboard Jungle, Strangers When We Meet, Mothers and Daughters, Buddwing, Last Summer, Sons, and Nobody Knew They Were There.

As Ed McBain he penned world class crime fiction, more than fifty titles in his 87th Precinct novels. During his prolific life he cranked out award winning short stories and wrote, among other film scripts Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

And here we are suggesting a title that, weight-wise, barely tips the Hunter-McBain scales. The reason is simple. There’s a sense of fun here that not only jumps right off the pages but makes the reader just know that the writer, as he penned this one, was laughing all the way. Read More »

Summer of ‘42: A Novel

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by Herman Raucher
P. Putnam’s Sons (1971)

Okay, one of the all-time great beach reads for a beautiful summer’s day.  That’s a given. But as winter comes whistling around your windows if you’re looking for something to cuddle up with—try Summer of ’42—it will make you laugh, make you cry, take you back to a day when the world wasn’t as complicated.

’42 will warm your heart.

Simple story—three adolescent boys in 1942 are stuck with their families on a New England beach for the summer. They’re too young to fight in the war and yet waging a horrible battle of their own against the Number 1 enemy of youth—-puberty! Read More »

Ragtime: A Novel

by E.L. Doctorow

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Ragtime is a form of jazz, a musical genre written for the piano that enjoyed great popularity between the late 1800s to the early 1920s.

So, one might assume that E.L. Doctorow chose to tell Ragtime, his most compelling turn of the century story of America, in a jaunty, syncopated or jazzy rhythm. His third-person prose clearly have a poet’s touch, written in an experimental lyrical style the likes of which readers had never quite experienced, at least not until the publication of this 1974 winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award.

Now, having rounded up a few of Doctorow’s post-publication interviews regarding the work, I’m not sure that–style-wise–he saw the book quite that way. What I think the author might lay claim to is simply being a storyteller, something that’s been going on since the painting of ancient hieroglyphics and perhaps more significantly the birth of the Bible.

That said, what Doctorow does in Ragtime is take the liberty of any good storyteller (again, the Bible exemplifies this) by making up words and thoughts that actual people never said. This is commonplace in fiction today, but as Doctorow said in one of those aforementioned interviews, “(it) opened the gates!” Read More »

Raney: A Novel

by Clyde Edgerton
Ballantine Books (1985)

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Children, relatives or friends planning to take the big marital leap? Been checking out their gift registry on the Internet and then searching Bed, Bath and Beyond for that perfect buy?

Ah, but you’ve been there, lived the two-birds-in-a-single-nest life and would like to consider a more meaningful gift, something other than a blender or bathroom scales.

Because you’re a reader a book might be the answer, one that opens the couple’s eyes to the reality of marriage.

So you give Amazon a look-see.

HOW TO HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP, HOW TO SAVE A MARRIAGE, WE CAN WORK IT OUT (and dozens of other ominous marital titles) practically jump into your “Proceed to Checkout” basket.


Reboot, jump on Amazon again and purchase a page turner from the past, one that may just be the best marital advice book ever written.

RANEY, Clyde Edgerton’s 1985 novel, the story of a young Southern couple’s first two years of marriage, not only gives readers a counselor’s eye view of the push-and-pull of marriage, it makes us laugh at ourselves and the whole “institution” for what it is—demise or compromise. Read More »

Now & Then

Robert Parker Now & Then book cover

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by Robert B. Parker
The Berkley Publishing Group (2007)

Readers who enjoy the detective genre love Robert B. Parker.

A formula writer? You bet, and what a formula.

Called the Dean of American Crime Fiction his Spenser Series, Jesse Stone Series and Sunny Randall Series are a reader’s answer to a foodie’s idea of great appetizers. Parker clearly – plot, character, story and setting – serves us small portions. The dialogue is clipped and clever; chapters are short and so readable it’s rare when we don’t hear our stomach growl for more good writing. “That was really great; I think I’ll have another.”

Bad news, good news. Parker passed away in 2010 but before leaving he wrote some 70 of these gems. So grab a plate and prepare to try a bit of this and a bit of that – they’re all so very tasty.

I chose Now & Then, the Spencer novel here not because it’s my all-time favorite, but because it exemplifies, through story, plot and characters, the way Parker worked his magic. Read More »

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump book cover

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by Winston Groom
Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1986)

Now here’s a novel idea, one that Hollywood’s “idiots” might consider.

Why not take Forrest Gump, a little novel about an idiot savant and turn it into one of the greatest feature films in the industry’s history? Hell, all they’d have to do is feature Gump, the big bozo protagonist, a mentally challenged young man who somehow manages to find himself the centerpiece (from the ‘50s through the early ‘70s) of every event that impacted America—Alabama football, Vietnam, Watergate, US./China relations, NASA’s Space program, professional Wrastlin’, Hollywood, drugs and Rock ‘N Roll.

Using the latest film technology they might just lay in footage of the time (TV and movie news coverage), then drop Forrest into these actual historical moments. Why not score it with the music of the day—-Hound Dog, Blowin’ in the Wind, Walk Right In, and California Dreamin’ etc.,—–and oh, to pull this off, recruit a cast of geniuses—scriptwriters, directors, shooters, editors, actors.

Suddenly Paramount Pictures’ “idiots” are geniuses and the little novel, well it’s the basis and inspiration for Forrest Gump, an epic romantic-comedy and six-time, 1994, Oscar winning film—Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor, (Tom Hanks), Best Adapted Screenplay, (Erick Roth), Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing.

Okay, as Forrest might say, “Theys done been there and theys done that!

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