Wednesday, January 31, 2007
A New Way to Sell Books
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Monday, January 29, 2007
Mahatma Ghandi Meets Annie Oakley and Who Wins
A novel By Jerry Craven
Texas Christian University Press
Cover design by Shadetree Studios
Snake Mountain is everything a “western” novel is supposed to be, but it’s a lot more. It has all the gun-play, sinister bad guys, beautiful women and beautiful (and sometimes pitiful) horses and fist-fights one expects in the genre, but it transcends the genre in so many ways that merely assigning it to the western genre is an injustice.
The main character, Jason White, is a complicated character from the git-go. He’s the son of a Texan, born in Texas himself, with a mother from India. He’s been raised in the Far East and returns to Texas (west Texas Panhandle to be precise) a half-breed, at the age of 22 to attend college. When he arrives he’s a vegetarian, sometime Muslim, who speaks with a British expatriate accent, and has the mind set of a pacifist. His first encounter with the United States is witnessing a murder at the Los Angeles airport. Although the encounter seems at first to be extraneous to the story that follows, it’s not for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that the experience reaffirms the opinion he has that the U.S. is a violent country, very alien to the way he believes himself to be. The second is more subtle and easily missed because the story moves on quickly to his arrival in Texas. What’s also important about the encounter in the Los Angeles airport is that although he prevents the murderer from escaping by tripping him with his cane (he’s nursing a broken leg from a tennis accident suffered before the story begins.) he has a brief fantasy in which he envisions himself as having prevented the murder by being more aggressive. Although it may seem to be a flaw in Jerry Craven’s constructing the Jason character by including Jason’s fantasy of being more aggressive, it’s not at all. It foreshadows what is to come in the arc of Jason’s character from the beginning of the tale to its conclusion.
The story takes lots of twists and turns. What’s coming next is never totally predictable, but predictable enough to make it believable. Jason gets mixed up with two women, and entangled in the lives of both, including the hostility of the estranged husband of one (a really mean, ornery character) and the Lesbian pursuer of the other (another mean and very devious character.) Befriended by a Texas-style “uncle”–who’s actually an old college chum of his father’s–and a crusty cowboy or two, Jason learns to navigate and adapt to the strange ways and language of cowboy culture (like the culture of a “tribe” as his “uncle” describes it.)
Some may take offense at the comic, crude, and offensive mannerisms of this particular “tribe” as being demeaning and unflattering for Texas and Texans. Perhaps Craven’s description of cowboy culture seems a bit over-the-top at times (Think Urban Cowboy.) But it’s true to life. Craven never strays far from the truth as this reviewer knows it, and he’s a native born Texan himself with experience in living during his early adolescence (very like Jason’s Sitz im Leben) among the very tribe Craven describes, and growing up in Pasadena, Texas, the setting of Urban Cowboy.
The particular genius and meaning of Craven’s story is not found in its plot nor the superficial setting of West Texas–a modern version of the “old west.” The real importance of the book is the anthropology--what it tells about human beings; the way in which human culture adapts and thrives in the challenge of surviving in the land where it lives.
The west Texas part of the planet is a savage, unforgiving, semi-arid region filled with natural danger, unpredictable changes of weather, and hazards that spring up without warning, such as being surprised by a rattle snake on the trail and the sudden danger of wild fires (some natural and some the result of human contrivance.) It’s not a land for sissies or those governed by altruistic notions of fairness or preset ideas about good and evil. Both are sure-fired ways of getting hurt real bad–or killed in west Texas.
Human survival in such a place has its own rules of behavior–some subtle and some outright. Sentimentality about love and the appreciation of the beauty of nature are present as part of human nature, and Craven shows us examples, but in doing so, he shows us why in west Texas they have to be cloaked by a veneer of hardness and spoken in a particular “code” as Craven describes it. The crude, tasteless limericks of dirty songs cloak what are in truth expressions of love, and spiritual connections with nature are literally hidden in darkness and performed in secret. This is all very true: “I been there” and I know.
Human beings are adaptable creatures; that’s why we can survive and thrive in hostile environments--even in space--but the essential qualities of what makes us human are always present–both the goodness and the inherent evil, which we pass on from generation to generation in our genes.
A minor character (who Jason meets as a child long before he goes to Texas) is his first encounter with gratuitous violence and because the character is an Australian (a tribe of people who have learned to survive in a hostile land) the incident foreshadows Jason’s encounter with violence in Texas among the Texas tribe. Human beings must adapt to the land in which they live if they are to survive, or they have to leave. Perhaps much of our trouble as a nation when we try to impose our own, northern and western culture on others stems from our lack of understanding for the tribes in other regions, such as desert nomads (think Lawrence of Arabia for an example) and the native tribes of Somalia and other parts of Africa, as well as in South and Central America–and of course, Iraq and Iran. They’re like they are in part because of the nature of the land in which they live.
Craven’s west Texas tale, at its heart, is a study in how Texans through crassness, crudeness, and their seemingly arbitrary judgments of right and wrong–law and order–live and let live–shows us a great deal about human beings and the human condition. There is an old story about how a no-nonsense (female) Texas judge explained something to another judge from a more “civilized” part of the country. He asked her why in Texas a man can go scot-free after killing a man he caught in bed with his wife–exonerated because it was justifiable homicide–while a man would always be strung up for stealing a horse. Her reply was: “Well, some men need killing, but there was never a horse that needed stealing.” For those who don’t understand; you steal a cowboy’s horse and you steal his way of making a living. In west Texas there are places a cowboy has to go that you can’t get to, even today, on an ATV, in a pickup truck, or on foot. Steal his horse and you endanger his livelihood as well as his life. For a west Texan, a horse thief needs killing.
That little antidote explains Craven’s Texas and the Texans in Snake Mountain. He’s written a great book that ought to be considered literature and certainly not dismissed as just another shoot-em-up story about the west. Buy it, read it, and appreciate it for what it teaches about our survival as human beings in hostile country.
Order it from Amazon.com by clicking below:
Saturday, January 27, 2007
The Way We Were
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Best-Seller Big Bang: When Words Started Off to Market
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
Published: January 27, 2007
Read the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/27/arts/27vict.html?th&emc=th
Thursday, January 25, 2007
More About WWII Submarines (Revised)
U.S. Subs Down Under: Brisbane, 1942-1945
by David Jones and Peter Nunan
U.S. Subs Down Under is an excellent reference work about an important part of the war in the Southwestern Pacific during WWII. It is thoroughly researched and the writing is clear and accessible. Although the book does not provide a reader with the excitement of undersea warfare in more dramatic books, such as William Touhy’s The Bravest Man, which covers the exploits of submarine commander Richard O’Kane, nevertheless it is a valuable reference work.
Jones and Nunan sort out the complexities of the two major operating commands in the Pacific theater; in the Southwest Pacific, under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur in Australia, and those commanded in the rest of the Pacific by Admiral Nimitz from his headquarters in Pearl Harbor. Because submarines and other forces were constantly moving from one command to the other, it is sometimes difficult to determine who reported to whom from one month to the next, and Jones and Nunan are a great help in keeping track of who was directing their missions.
U.S. Subs Down Under also provides a great deal of detail about shore-based support of the submarines operating out of Australian ports; the rest facilities, repair facilities, and of course the degree to which the citizens and government of Australia both encouraged, fed, and entertained submarine sailors. The book also includes many details about the tasks submarines performed besides sinking enemy ships: in landing coast watchers, rescuing downed aviators, evacuating civilians, reconnaissance, and supporting invasions forces.
Jones and Nunan also provide statistics on the patrols and sinkings of individual submarines (including the dates of their patrols and the names of the Japanese ships they sunk) and the dates, names and circumstances of each submarine that was lost during the war in the Southwest Pacific theater of operations.
Because I served on the USS Bream (SS-243) from 1960 to 1963, reading about Bream’s operations during the war was of particular interest to me. Although the book included information about Bream’s two patrols and the fact that "my" sub sunk the freighter Yuki Maru on June 16, 1944 and torpedoed and damaged the Japanese cruiser Aoba on October 23, 1944, a mystery remains for me. I learned when I served in Bream that the boat had been depth-charged sometime during the war and the hull was permanently deformed by the attack, which limited the submarine’s test depth. Unfortunately U.S. Subs Down Under did not mention the depth-charging, although it does state that Bream and was fired on (although not hit) by an American Liberty ship in April of 1944. Perhaps the depth-charging occurred after Bream attacked the cruiser Aoba, but U.S. Subs Down Under does not mention it. To the left above is a picture of Bream during the time I served in her in 1962. After the war she was modified as an SSK, or hunter-killer sub for anti-submarine warfare. She had a large, bulbous sonar dome on her bow, which reduced her surface speed to about 11 knots.
Since posting this review, I had an email from Myron Howard another BREAM crew member. He know a bit more about BREAM, including some discussion about BREAM's misshapen hull. He writes:
I just saw your page with your personal information. I too was on BREAM.
However I left her in April, '60. The thing that struck me was the comment
on your page about a misshaped hull as a result of Japanese depth charge
attacks. That is news to me.
I was in contact with a WWII vet who was on BREAM when she got stuck in
the mud while avoiding a depth charge attack. That event resulted in a
warpped shaft that had to be changed out and a fire in the motor room but
no hull damage.
And I recall several dives to test depth (312 ft) while I was aboard BREAM
from July, '57 until April, '60.
The rumor may have been a result not of Japanese depth charges but an event that occurred in 1959.
I don't recall the exact depths but we had an excursion. If you recall, the
depth guage valves were behind the gauge board in the Control Room.
When going below 150 it was SOP for the A ganger on watch to close the
shallow guage valves on the way down and open them on the way up.
Well, we were going down and the fellow on the stern planes, who had
reported aboard in late 1957, told the A ganger he'd do it. A ganger figured
the guy had a couple years on the boat what could go wrong? Well a lot
First he closed the deep guage valves. When he realized that, instead of
opening the deep guage valves he opened the vent valves on the guage
system. By the time the A ganger got everything lined up properly, we had
about a 25+ up angle and were sinking by the stern. Al Packard had the
After Torpedo Room and he told me he thought the ATR was around 350 or
deeper based on the pressure guages on the tubes.
Guess I was lucky. I had the forward port upper skid rack in the ATR and
slept right through it.
And though my sig doesn't say so, I have several pages of BREAM photos
and history on my web site. There is brief mention of the fire in Maneuvering.
Also the warped shaft, both scopes being replaced and the forward tubes
having to be repaired as a result of depth charges.
Note: Myron's web site address is here:
There's more good sites available too, both about BREAM and other WWII boats:
and lots of others from a Google search here:
Click on the link below to buy U.S. Subs Down Under directly from Amazon.com
I Decided Against the Microsoft Expressions Web Program
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Arise Beloved, is a WWII story about a WASP, Becky Bright, her first lover, Troy McNutt, a navy pilot, their separation, his combat in the South Pacific, her dangerous mission to exchange a German POW for her faithless POW husband, and Becky and Troy's reconciliation after the war.
Click on the link below to order the book.