Archives for posts with tag: Book Critic

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A local radio broadcast reported that John’s Grill, in downtown San Francisco, was reopening with limited dining on the sidewalk. I’ve never eaten at the restaurant, but the report said John’s Grill was the setting for a scene in The Maltese Falcon, the novel by Dashiell Hammett published in 1929.
We’ve seen the film by John Huston, released in 1941, maybe half a dozen times. My video guide lists the film as “one of the greatest movies of all time.” We’ve loved the moody depiction of old San Francisco.
I had the Vintage Press trade paperback in my TBR stack, sat down, and read the whole thing (it’s only 234 pages long).
Huston didn’t have to do much to adapt the novel. Hammett wrote whole scenes screenplay-like (he himself wrote screenplays, though not this screenplay), and snappy dialogue. The film only had to follow along—the dialogue is verbatim.
It was thrilling to read; I love Hammett’s bold, tight prose. The end gets a bit convoluted, and Huston untangled the most important parts for depiction on the screen. What emerges in the novel, subtly, is a portrait of 1920s San Francisco, including several references to the underground homosexual scene.
When Joel Cairo, a flamboyantly gay character, first enters Spade’s office in the movie, Spade’s secretary, Effie Perrine, gives Spade Cairo’s business card. Humphrey Bogart makes a point of sniffing the card, at which Effie says ironically, “Gardenia.” In the novel, Effie comes into to tell Spade Cairo is there, and she simply says, “He’s queer.” In 1941, apparently Huston had to change that for the movie under the Hays Code. But, in the film, Spade repeatedly refers to Wilmer, Mr. Gutman’s gunman, as “the gunsel.” This is 1920s slang for a man who turns “sissy” while in prison.
About the scene set in John’s Grill, which appears in the novel but not the film—Spade has dinner at the restaurant with Polhaus, one of the cops. The scene novelistically builds character, but doesn’t advance the plot. They discuss Dundy, Polhaus’s partner—whom Spade refers to as Polhaus’s “boyfriend” and “playmate”, probably sarcastically since both cops are big, beefy macho guys. For dinner, Polhaus has a pickled pig-foot, described disgustingly. This is probably Hammett’s joke—I don’t know if cops were referred to disparagingly as “pigs” in 1929, but Spade does refer to them as “bulls.”
A thoroughly enjoyable novel, sexist warts and all, which kept me up all night. Recommended, before or after the film, which so well captures the story and characters. You must do both.
Edits: **Hammett’s first name was Samuel, so his hero is not a little based on him. Spade “digs up dirt.” Hammett worked as a Pinkerton detective before he took up writing.
**And Brigid O’Shaughnessy was another joke and a pun by Dashiell Hammett.
The only way people in the early 1900s could get from San Francisco to Marin County, where a lot of people lived, was by ferry boat. There was a huge public outcry to build the Golden Gate Bridge over the mouth of the Bay, and the city engineer of San Francisco at the time, M.M. O’Shaughnessy, first proposed the project, which took a few years to get underway.
So Hammett joked, “Bridge It, O’Shaughnessy!”
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8.10.19.YA.BOOKS

The Premier August Essential Digest
The August Book Blog
The Stack of YA Fantasy Books
Yet another neighbor is moving from the San Francisco Bay area, saying goodbye to California, and establishing a new residence in the State of Texas. The high cost of living in the Golden State, the high taxes, the crime, and other issues—well. I have no further comment.
She, the neighbor, gave me this stack of eight books (she added two more since this photo was taken, so that makes ten), as well as a dozen movie DVDs. I don’t know why people are always giving me books and movies. (Not that I’m complaining.) Husband Tom Robinson and I must own 20,000 books.
I don’t really need more books! Or do I?
As a Philip K. Dick Award Judge in 2015, I received hundreds of books from publishers hoping to win the award for their book. I’ve only just begun to clear out those stacks. I gave a big bag of books to another neighbor who is staying in California and reads and likes science fiction. Actually, two bags to two other neighbors. And I still have dozens of books left. Some (a very few) I’ll keep for my collection, of course. At some point, though (when I get off my lazy butt), I’ll take the rest up to our wonderful little local library and donate them.
So my neighbor left me this stack of books, plus two more, and moved away before I could ask questions. Are you a reviewer? Are you an aspiring YA fantasy author? Did you go to a convention? The books are pristine, unread. But she was gone. I’ll never know. It’s a mystery.
They are all beautifully produced hardcover books, with slip jackets, the author’s photograph on the back flap, mostly nice front covers (some I’m not crazy about), some with nicely done maps, all with excellent graphics and embellishments on the inside. All with “handwritten” notes from the author explaining why she wrote the book, all autographed (some with printed autographs), some with postcards of the book cover and a place on the back for a postage stamp and address lines. All were published in either 2017 or 2018 and all were priced at just under twenty dollars.
Eighteen dollars for a quality hardcover? Wow.
All by women. And all Young Adult Fantasy or borderline Science Fiction.
Three books are from the same Big Publisher, the rest from other Big Publishers. So that makes seven Big Publishers, altogether. And they’re all copying each other in terms production values and the extras. I’m sure the publishers—and especially the authors!—are hoping for another Twilight or The Hunger Games.
There must a big market for YA fantasy written from a teenage girl’s perspective, aimed at that audience, even given the overall declining market for fiction, especially print fiction. Especially hardcover fiction. A big, big market.
My novel dissecting the Sixties, Summer of Love, is told partly from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old girl. Bantam, the first publisher, tried to market the book as YA (briefly), with disclaimers about adult situations, drugs, and violence. But I was ahead of my time, book-marketing wise, by about twenty years. Now I hear that Netflix has a controversial teen-life series with many explicit issues. Okay. So you won’t be shocked by Summer of Love by Lisa Mason.
I did what I usually do when confronted with a stack of books. Read the book description on the jacket. Surprise! To be honest, I don’t care so much about the author’s credentials, where she lives, where she went to school, what she does for a living, whether she has a husband or a wife, a dog or a cat. I myself have sweated blood over my author’s bio to go on a book jacket. I surprised myself, this time, with my indifference to the author’s bio. I did read, though, the acknowledgements for purely selfish reasons: to see if there is someone I know mentioned.
But most of all, I read the first paragraph or the first page or a few first pages. They’re all well-written. Otherwise, the books wouldn’t be published by Big Publishers. But those first words don’t always appeal (to me, anyway) or don’t always make sense.
You, as the writer, are supposed to raise story questions in your first line, your first paragraph, your first page that compel the reader to read the rest of your story or book.
That seems obvious, but this is a subtle art. Who is the character who starts the book? What challenges does she face? Will she overcome those challenges and how?
You, the writer, do not want to raise questions of credulity. What do I mean? How and why the character would do such a stupid or unlikely action? Questions that stop the reader dead on the first page.
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Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!