Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Reading

Summer is upon us. Now is the time for seeking a respite from the heat inside the darkened confines of a movie theater. It's also a good time to take some solace in a good book or two. Here are some suggestions on how to pass the summer in style.

1. The American Underworld trilogy. Make this the summer of paranoid conspiracies and check out James Ellroy's bloody and brutal take on America in the sixties. The first volume is the masterpiece American Tabloid, a sprawling epic following the exploits of three behind the scenes operators (an ex-cop working for Howard Hughes, an FBI man with a drinking problem and a Christ complex, and a charming political fixer infatuated with Camelot) as they make their way through the intrigues surrounding Cuba, the Bay of Pigs, and Dallas. A huge book that shoots along like a bullet, American Tabloid has a stellar central cast of characters augmented by believable appearances from J. Edgar Hoover, Jack and Bobby K, and psycho financier Hughes. It all ends about one minute before the shots ring out in Dallas on Nov. 22 1963. The second book in the trilogy, The Cold Six Thousand, picks up the story about five minutes after the shots are fired and follows the story to June of 1968. You can knock down these two volumes in time for the publication of the third volume, Blood's A Rover in September. The books--particularly TCST--have a clipped style of writing that is difficult for some people to get into (Ellroy, at least in these books, makes Hemingway look expansive), but if you catch the rhythm and ride it, these books will not let go of you.

2. The Best And The Brightest. Speaking of Kennedy, this might be a good time to revisit the era with David Halberstam's examination of the President's trusted circle of advisers--that storied group of idealists and eggheads who nevertheless led us into Vietnam. This is an indispensable book. I hope the current President and his cadre have read it.

3. Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave And The Birth Of The FBI 1933-34. The movie adaption focuses mostly on John Dillinger, but Bryan Burrough's book is a look at a brief window of time (about 18 months) in which a slew of big name robbers and gangsters--people like Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, The Barker Gang, Bonnie and Clyde--rampaged across America knocking over banks and drug stores, kidnapping millionaires, and killing cops--and how all this led to the rise of an obscure paper-pusher named J. Edgar Hoover and his tiny department, the FBI. See the movie for Dillinger, but read the book for a detailed look at the entire fascinating era.

4. As you doubtless know already, Bernie Madoff was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison for running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history and defrauding his investors out of somewhere between 13-50 billion dollars. Vanity Fair has been covering this story for months in a brilliant series of articles called The Madoff Chronicles. This is compulsive reading, believe me. I care less about money than anyone I know, but this is an epic story of the worst white collar criminal in history. Madoff the criminal, the conman, the husband, father, employer--Madoff the monster and the man. Stellar reading. Check it out.

5. And of course, the Internet is hopping with daily slices of noirish nightmare. Some good stuff includes Eric Beetner's two-part Get Gone (Part One and Part Two) over at A Twist Of Noir, and a trio of fun stuff on Beat To A Pulp: David Cranmer's bloody little jewel Vengeance On The 18th, Paul D Brazill's psycho The Tut, and John Weagley's ode to quality dental care, Oral Eruptions. I could go on, but there's a lot of stuff out there.

Lastly: Have I missed anything good? Let me know, recent or old-as-dirt, what's a good read for the summer.