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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Shopping with Burstein-Applebee in 1968

I've been too busy for Christmas shopping this year.  I'm in the middle of a project that includes cleaning out an old house and prepping it for a major remodel.  So it was quite fortuitous that I came across this handy Christmas edition of a Burstein-Applebee electronics catalog.  All of my shopping needs can be easily met right here in this fantastic collection of high-tech wizardry.  As you can see on the cover, there are many stores to choose from if I want to shop in person, and I can even send orders to the main office and expect fast personal service.  That's right...personal service through the mail.  I don't know how they do it.

Right off the bat I can see that one of the Christmas Specials is a steal.  A Solid State Telephone Amplifier; just $14.95!  This baby allows a room full of people to listen and talk on the same telephone.  Not only that, but it's battery powered and requires no installation.  And with that amazing on-off switch, you, well let me quote them here.  I want to make sure the copy-writer gets all the credit for this poetic line.  "Simple flip switch when in use, turn off when call is completed."  Yep, it really is that simple.  What will they think of next?

This is what they thought of next.  A "really portable tiny solid state TV."  This should be perfect for a friend of mine who is really tiny and portable.  This sweet 16 inch (that's 16 square inches, mind you) television gives you striking beauty with its 90 degree aluminized picture tube has true picture detail.  And that dark-tint screen "assures pleasing contrast indoors or out, and when set is off it blends in with modernistic design."  I had to put that last bit in quotes so you wouldn't think I was making that up.  Oh man, I'm thinking of putting this on my own wish list.  Imagine settling in to watch Star Trek on this baby.  It almost looks like Mr. Spock's science station.

I'll be back with more great items from this wonderful catalog.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Avalon: A Thanksgiving View of the Past

Avalon, Directed by Barry Levinson

There are many movies that families watch as annual traditions.  When we were kids, it was Mary Poppins, Gone With the Wind, or The Ten Commandments.  These were common holiday movies.  As video tapes became available, we began to choose our own movies, and movies like A Christmas Story became a part of our yearly tradition.  And let's not forget all those Rankin-Bass greats like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  But around our house, a completely different movie has become a Thanksgiving tradition.  One that is not your usual holiday fare.

Here at our house, the kids have grown up watching a Barry Levinson film with the mysterious name of Avalon.

Avalon, written by Levinson as well, is a semi-biographical story of Levinson's family.  Set in Baltimore of the 1950's, it tells the story of Sam Krichinsky, who came to America in 1914 (or was it 1915?).  You see, as the family gathers every holiday, Sam tells the younger generations about when he came to America.  We hear these stories through the eyes and imagination of Sam's grandson Michael, played by a very young and precocious Elijah Wood, long before he became a hobbit with a dreadful journey ahead of him.

As the holiday dinner proceeds, we learn more and more about the Krinchinsky family, both past and present.  Despite the fact that this is set in the 1950's, I felt right at home when I watched this scene for the first time.  My own childhood was full of such family gatherings in the 1970's, and it was much the same as in Levinson's film.  It is why this movie became such a favorite of mine, and why my kids came to like it so much.  I often pulled it out to watch, and they loved to watch along with me.  I was always narrating over the dialog, telling them how the film matched my own memories, or how they differed.  I didn't know it then, but I've since heard some of my kids say they have the same nostalgic feelings for this film that I had simply because we watched it so many times and they identify it with my own past.  This is somewhat ironic considering Levinson's objective with the movie.

The Krichinsky family, at the outset of the film, is very close, and aunts, uncles, cousins, and parents are all friends, highly involved in each other's lives.  Holidays are spent in one house together, sitting around after the massive dinner, talking about the home country, telling old stories.  But as television begins to enter the picture, and shopping creeps into their holiday traditions, the family begins to splinter.  Objectives change and tempers flare.  Eventually, there is a split, and half of the family goes its own way.  By the end of the 1960's, Michael, now a young father, must visit his grandfather in a nursing home, where Sam is still telling the same old stories, though his memory is not what is used to be.

Elijah Wood and Amin Mueller-Stahl in Avalon
The character of Sam is played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, whose magical performance stands out in this cast, though there are few cast members who do not shine in this ensemble.  Joan Plowright, as Sam's wife Eva, is a delight to watch, and Aidan Quinn turns in the best performance of his that I've ever seen as Michael's father.  Elizabeth Perkins takes on the role of Michael's mother; her attempts to make sense of her husband's family is both entertaining and extremely realistic.  Lou Jacobi steals the show as Sam's obstinate brother Gabriel, though Kevin Pollack gives him a run for his money as the swift-talking cousin Izzy.  I could name cast members here until I've listed every one of them.  One of Levinson's strengths as a director is the way he draws such natural performances out of his cast, including the smallest of the roles.

The movie wouldn't be half as good without Randy Newman's painfully beautiful soundtrack.  This is not the Randy Newman of his Short People style of music.  Here he is more like Gershwin and Mozart mixed together.  There are moments when a simple piano, accompanied by a single trumpet, will melt your heart.  It is a soundtrack that should not be left out of anyone's playlist.

Sam and his extended family, captivated by that new
gadget, television.
Filled with humor, tragedy, and a few bitter truths, Avalon pans across the wide vista of a family's struggle to adapt to the technological and sociological changes that transformed America in the middle of the Twentieth Century.  And for some odd reason, it has become a family tradition in our home to watch it.  We watch it nearly as often as we watch A Christmas Story.

For some viewers (my wife foremost among them) Avalon might be seen as a bleak movie.  But I've never seen it that way.  Instead, it is always a great reminder to push back against the isolating influence of progress and to hold on to family traditions.  Why my kids like to watch it, I'm not entirely sure.  You'll have to ask them.

The movie can be seen on Amazon's Instant Watch (the left link) and the soundtrack can be found at the link on the right.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Parkland, Not Your Average Kennedy Film

Parkland, directed by Peter Landesman

I'd only seen a few glimpses of this movie in the last week; a small display at Wal-Mart, part of a commercial during a football game.  I had no idea what it was about.  But I saw right away that Paul Giamatti and Billy Bob Thornton were in it and I had that funny feeling that this was one of those sleeper films that would turn out to be a real gem.  When my son and I went looking for a movie to watch (simply to have an excuse to make nachos and chill out for the night) we found Parkland listed in the pay-per-view queue.  Discovering that it involved the Kennedy assassination, we decided to give it a try.  Honestly, there wasn't much else that looked interesting.

It turns out I was right.  This was definitely a gem.  To start with, the cast was very impressive.  In addition to Giamatti and Thornton, who both turn in strong performances, there were plenty of other cast members who caught my eye.

James Badge Dale turns in a stronger than usual performance as Robert Oswald, brother of the infamous shooter.  Dale, who had the early distinction as Jack Bauer's partner in season two of 24, works his role with understatement, as if he is sleepwalking through the nightmare that hits his family when it is announced his brother has shot the President.  That's not an insult.  He does it well, allowing us to see the unfolding tragedy that overtakes his average life.

I've always liked Ron Livingston since his tour of duty on Band of Brothers.  Here he plays Federal Agent James Hosty, and he brings his world-weary persona to a role that was a pleasant surprise.  Hosty is a bit of a cynic, but he hasn't given up.  He is still in the game, working leads, and trying to make some sense out of the crazy guys in the world like Lee Harvey Oswald, a man he's been tracking simply because he was a real mess.  That his guy ends up killing the President leaves Hosty defensive, confused, and ultimately in some very hot water.  Livingston is well cast in this role, and I only wished his role had been expanded.

Macia Gay Harden in Parkland
Marcia Gay Harden takes a very small role here, but her presence is palpable despite the fact she is mostly a bystander in the hospital, responding to the shock of the President's bloody arrival by clinging to her role as head nurse, executing her duties as if she were attending a king in his court, instead of a patient in an emergency room.  I can't hardly remember any of her lines, but her eyes were saying enough every time the camera focuses on her, which is what this movie is really all about; watching as events overtake everyone in the room.

Other cast members fill out this film with similar understated performances; Zac Efron, Glenn Morshower (another 24 veteran), and Colin Hanks.  But really I could list most of the actors involved in this movie.  So many of them had small, nameless parts, passing in and out of scenes as needed by the script, having few lines but lending their emotional weight to every scene.  And that's what makes this film unique.  The dialog is not the focus of this story.  Often, the action carries through without dialog, save for the chatter that crowds around an emergency.

Landesman is to be praised for his approach to a story that has been seen too many times before.  He is well aware that we know the story.  He's not trying to tell us what happened to John F. Kennedy that day.  What he wants us to do is take a trip with him away from the main event.  Yes, the events we all expect to see are there in the movie, but do you really see them?  They are always off to one side; a reflection in someone's glasses, a noise off to the left, a blur of action to the right.  It's okay.  We already know what's going on.  We know Jackie is hit with spatter from Kennedy's wound.  We know she inexplicably crawls out onto the trunk.  But Landesman wants us to look away from all of that, and see what is happening around this historically momentous event.

Why?  Because everywhere you look, you see people who are deeply affected by this horrendous attack.  We tend to forget that violence was not so prevalent in our visual horizons back then.  The Vietnam War had not yet invaded our living rooms.  And Kennedy, a young, exciting leader with terrific charisma, was not only cut down with a rifle, he was murdered on live television, an act that left so much of the nation shocked and as off-balanced at Jackie climbing onto the back of that convertible.  And that's what makes Parkland something special to watch.  Landesman takes one of the most sensational historical moments of the last century and reminds us that it had real emotional impact on the people caught up in the middle of it.

We've allowed conspiracy theories to cloud our perception of that day.  Mention the Kennedy killing and most people will pause, take on a thoughtful expression, and say "you know, I don't think we'll ever really know what happened that day," or "I'm pretty sure I can guess who paid Oswald to do it."  The puzzle of it fascinates us and long ago we learned to ignore the sheer tragedy of the moment.

Paul Giamatti in Parkland
Not Landesman.  He doesn't even begin to nod in the direction of a conspiracy.  If you want that, go see Stone's JFK.  You won't get any of that foolishness here.  What you'll get is an idea of how this impacted our people.  Giamatti, taking on the role of amateur film-maker Abraham Zapruder, really brings this point into 8MM color focus.  As he's filming, giddy at the chance to see his President, we hear him gasp in shock as the bullets hit.  He continues to film, caught up in the moment.  When he finally drops the camera and stumbles away, he is nearly sick to his stomach, overcome with grief.  It is an important moment.  I felt as if the director were reminding me that I can't just be a voyeur at this killing.  He wants us to be more than that.  Because at that moment, our nation was staggering from a tremendously powerful blow.  And instead of obsessing over convoluted theories, we too, should be staggering from this blow.  

I was tempted to think he'd gone overboard, watching secret service men and cops and admirals who were overcome with emotion, tears in their eyes, losing their comportment.  But I was reminded of what my mother told me.  She told the story of how she and my father sat on the steps of her parents' house and wondered if the world was coming to an end and how they decided right then to go ahead and get married, since no one could be sure of anything any more.

Parkland keeps its focus on this emotional trauma, though it never blinds us with it.  Yes, there is that macabre scene when Jackie is discovered in the emergency room with hands cupped, still cradling what bits of her husband's skull and brains she had been able to save.  But this isn't a sensational moment.  After all, this is long after Kennedy arrived at the hospital, after the doctors and nurses had done everything to save him.  After they had lost their battle.  You realize with sympathetic admiration that Jackie has been holding this the entire time.  These are stories we've heard before, but it is sobering to see it in the context of all that happened that day.

If you are any sort of casual history-buff, you won't see anything you didn't already know.  But when it is put all together, you get a clearer picture of that day in Dallas, and it is well worth taking a little trip back in time.  I was especially impressed by a little scene that involved the President's casket and Air Force One.  Keep an eye out for it; a perfect demonstration of the passion and confusion that must have overcome so many professionals that day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Confessions of a Bibliophile

It is not something that I recognized right away.  Growing up, my yearnings seemed normal to me.  But that shouldn't surprise anyone.  That is the way these things develop.  You feel an attraction to something that seems perfectly normal to you, and as you gratify your desires, and you become more comfortable indulging in them, you begin to equate joy with your particular object of desire.  And that's how a young boy from the heartland grew up to be so obsessed with books.

Sure, coming into my home as an outsider, you would recognize this dysfunctional behavior immediately.  You'd simply look to the left and the right, spot the stacks of books that line the walls and cover the furniture (all of which does not include the shelves full of books) and say to yourself "what a sick, sick, man.  Doesn't he know there are programs that can help him out of this private hell?"  Then, when you realize I've raised five children in this atmosphere, you'll add this addendum: "not such a private hell!  Here's hoping he hasn't warped these kids for the rest of their lives!"

But take a step back, realize that no matter how obvious this addiction is to you, it has never been obvious from my perspective.  Back in the 1970's, before any real awareness of electronic media alternatives (yes, television had emerged as a healthy counterpoint to the unsavory habit of reading, but it had not yet won over a super-majority of society at that point), it was considered perfectly normal that an old, converted city bus would creak its way into our little town on the Illinois prairie and wheeze to a stop next to our little IGA grocery store.  Mind you, this was just a block from our house.  My mother, bless her heart, saw nothing sinister in allowing us children to don our stocking caps and stuff ourselves into our wool coats as we ran down the street to clamber aboard the Bookmobile.  (I was under the age of five!  A mere babe in the wood...on a treeless prairie, no less!)  Just that name—The Bookmobile—you know it was designed to lure children into its crowded passages, full of colorful, worn books, all of them suffused with the odors of a million aging pages pasted to hardback covers with crusty, yellow paste; pages that had been pored over by thousands of other bibliophiles from hundreds of other small towns identical to our own.  One can easily see how yet another obsession of mine germinated in the suffocating shell of that ancient bus—my germaphobia.  That old Bookmobile would sneak into town during the day and every homemaking mother would encourage her innocent children to check out books from its jam-packed shelves.  I often wonder, did our fathers even know this thing existed?  Were they aware of its book-peddling influences on our provincial, pastoral lives?  I doubt it.  One can only imagine how the men of that town would have snatched their shotguns down from their fireplace mantels and chased that asthmatic motorcoach into the surrounding cornfields, eventually shooting out its flabby tires.  I'm sure with a little help from a few of the local farmers, that old bus would never have been seen again.  Just think of how that might have saved me from a lifetime of bibliophilia.

But the bookmobile was never hunted down and murdered by the men of our small town.  And as the years passed, I never did purge myself of the bookworm that had nested deep inside me.  And as I grew in stature and age, so did that serpent within.  By the time I was in high school, I was maintaining a small library of no little significance.  Of course, I married a bibliophiliac.  Neither one of us was aware of our literary disorder, though we must have been subconsciously drawn to each other.  She accepted my library as hers, mixing it with her own peculiar affection for reading.  Her own addiction was for a much more ancient form of reading.  Thus began my experimentation with the hard stuff: books that had been around for centuries, books that normal people instinctively keep out of their homes.

While I've overcome my shame enough to admit these things, it is still hard to confess what inevitably came next.  It is not easy to admit that we actively drew our children into this world of words and ideas.  Sure, young parents make the simple mistake of reading a few, light verse children's books to their beeblets when the little tykes need something to lull them to sleep.  But parents can be forgiven this indiscretion, since these youths are far too young to be affected by such incidental contact with books.  However, we didn't stop there.  We continued to read to our children, even as they matured enough to understand what we were reading them.  We would read with passion, acting out the actions of the characters, developing elaborate and memorable voices for the dialog, shaking the children to make sure they did not fall asleep before the story had come to an end.  We would leave the books lying around, and never scolded the kids when they were found sitting in a corner of the room, gazing at some book's illustrations without permission.

Children raised under the shadow of books.
All of this occurred, mind you, during the 1990's and the 2000's, as most children in our society had been freed of traditional book-reading habits by the advent of Gameboys, the Cartoon Network, AOL Instant Messenger, and Myspace.  The rise of digital media meant we had no excuse for our actions.  Yet we continued to buy books, filling our home with stacks and stacks of Hardy Boys Mysteries, Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, and Great Illustrated Classics.  Stuck in our own reading quagmire, we gleefully dragged our children down with us.

But this story ends with a little hope...of sorts.  Though I've not yet had a road-to-Damascus epiphany, I have begun to see our book habit for what it is; this blog post is a painful yet important first step on the road to recovery.  I've begun throwing our books out.  Not a complete purge, mind you, I'm just taking baby steps for now.  But they are steps, nonetheless.  I've been able to toss out not only books I've already read, but even a  few I had hoped to read again.  More importantly, I've been able to take that most difficult of steps; admitting that a few of the books I bought are books I'll never read.  They've taken up space in the house for decades, and it takes real courage to say "this book looked interesting back in 1994, and it was a steal at $3.99 from the Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller mail order paper, but I haven't read it in nineteen years, and I know in my heart I'm never going to sit down and read the darned thing."  I know.  I just went from talking about baby steps to taking Goliath steps.  Like I said, this story contains a little hope.  And if I can throw out a book like My Summer in Alaska (One man's struggle to survive in the Alaskan Wilderness) and admit that it is no great loss for me, then maybe someone else out there can do the same, and together we'll all take those baby steps, Goliath steps, and all those steps in between as we break free from our obsession with books.

Now, if only Amazon would quit selling so many eBooks for just $1.99.  But that's an addiction to conquer at a later date.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Carnival of Souls: A Cult Classic Reviewed

Carnival of Souls (1962), directed by Herk Harvey

As the classic horror movies of the Universal Monster era evolved throughout the 1930's into the 1950's, creatures remained the at the top of the genre.  That decade saw such gems as The Blob, Tarantula!, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Giant Claw, Attack of the Giant Leeches (a personal favorite!), and William Castle's The Tingler.  Rarely did horror not include a monster or an alien that was out to get you.

However, in the 1960's, even as creatures continued to menace theaters, horror fans began to see a new type of movie.  Darker themes lit up the big screen.  Man became a terror all his own.  Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock and a little known author from Wisconsin (Robert Bloch, a friend of H.P. Lovecraft), audiences all over the United States discovered that we need not fear giant ants or alien parasites when a man like Norman Bates is lurking behind a shower curtain in the 1960 classic Psycho.  Horror directors began to delve into the creepier aspects of what scares us.  Around this time period, Herk Harvey, a director of educational films from Kansas had an idea for a thriller-horror movie while on vacation in Utah.

For only $33,000, he filmed his movie, Carnival of Souls, using a professional actress (Candace Hilligoss) while filling in most of the cast with local talent, including himself.  In just three weeks, he completed his film.  As a "B" movie, it did poorly, and Herk Harvey never made another feature film.  Most of his crew came from the company he worked for making educational films.  The music score was done by Gene Moore, a co-worker who is also credited with such great films as How to Run a Filling Station and Embryology of the Chick.  (And no, those titles aren't humorous.  The films were actually about running a filling station and embryology...whatever that is.)  Actress Candace Hilligoss only made a few more films.  Carnival of Souls might never have been remembered had it not been seen again.  But as often happened, as cable television sought out more and more old movies to show late at night, Carnival of Souls was resurrected in the 1980's, and over time has become a respected film of 1960's horror.

So let's get to the movie.

Filmed in black and white, with Gene Moore's hypnotic organ score that saturates the film, Carnival of Souls begins with an accident during a drag race between a car full of young men and a car full of young ladies.  One of the young ladies, Mary (Hilligoss) miraculously crawls out of the river three hours after the car she is in runs off a bridge.  Stunned, she staggers home and continues on with her plans to take a new job as a church organist in Utah.

Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls
Traveling to her new home, Mary passes an abandoned bath resort/carnival on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.  She begins to see apparitions as she is driving.  Basically, she is not feeling well, and greatly disturbed.  Taking a room in a boarding house, she discovers that her neighbor across the hall is John Linden, a creep who spends his days on the make.  Actor Sidney Berger, who later became an acting instructor, plays John Linden, and does so with a delightful job of being creepy and distasteful.  His performance helps to cement the disturbing atmosphere of this bizarre movie.

The real terror, however, comes from the apparition that begins to stalk Mary.  A white-faced ghostly image of a middle-aged man wearing a suit.  No, he wasn't a radio-active creature, not an alien with eyes on the end of two long stalks.  Just a man, whose intense stare is too much for the unbalanced Mary.  At first she does her best to keep away from this silent watcher.  But finally she can no longer stand not knowing who he is and what he wants.  Unable to get any help from a local doctor, she begins to see more ghouls around her.

The Ghoul (Herk Harvey)
Finally, she is drawn to visit the abandoned carnival.  And there, she will eventually find the answers she is seeking.  Harvey makes use of the abandoned location with well-crafted scenes that are bizarre, ghoulish, and surreal.  I was expecting something over the top, but was happy to find that Harvey keeps the whole movie understated, with just the right amount of creepiness and dreamlike atmosphere.

Hilligoss is cast well as the doe-eyed blonde who stumbles around in this dreamy fantasy.  She never looks like the typical stupid young girl that so many horror movies offer up.  Instead, though she can't seem to figure out what is going on, she retains her dignity even as she is slowly overcome by the ghouls that haunt her.

Carnival of Souls is available on Amazon Instant Video.  Use the link below to check it out.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Those 70's Horror Movie Stars

Boris Karloff, Frankenstein (1931)
Back in the day, actors like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff became huge celebrities as they helped to create a class of films that became known as Horror.  They were (and still are today!) household names.  But as horror movies evolved, and involved more, uh, odd behavior, morphing from Gothic classical material to shamelessly campy and graphic horror, the top roles in horror movies seemed to go to unknown actors who remained as such.  Vincent Price might be an exception to this rule.  And even Bela, Boris and Vincent were never really accepted as mainstream actors.  Horror was their shtick and to horror they shtuck.

Today, it is mostly the same.  Horror films are made with few known actors in their casts.  You might see an actor or actress whose career has tanked take a role in a horror movie because they can't get any other work.  But you rarely see an A-lister seek after a horror role.

But something funny happened in the 1960's that led to a rash of top Hollywood stars who dove head first into the horror genre.  Maybe it was the success of such films as Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) that allowed horror films to drag themselves into respectability behind the casting of such mega-stars as Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.  Also, as the 70's dawned, there was a great revival of spiritual interest in the United States.  Unlike the spiritualism kick of the 1920's, this new interest did not just see the spiritual plane as something benign, where old relatives sat around wishing to speak with their great-nieces and great-nephews.  Just as the churches were experiencing a rise in popularity of the charismatic movement, secular society was becoming more intrigued by the spiritual battles between God and Satan.  This turn of attention was noted in Hollywood, and some very big stars were suddenly willing to lend their name and image to some rather strong horror...uh, shall we say offerings?

Oliver Reed, Burnt Offerings (1976)
And since we've used the word, I'll start with Burnt Offerings, a film from 1976.  This is a very good haunted house film, and it starred Oliver Reed, who was just beginning to reach his stride in what would become a very big career.  He was no stranger to horror, having played a local thug in The Shuttered Room, the 1967 adaptation of Lovecraft's short story The Dunwich Horror.  And though Reed was not yet the iconic celebrity he would become, Burnt Offerings also attracted such stars as Burgess Meredith and Bette Davis.

What I liked about this movie was the slow tension as Reed's character slowly, and ever so slightly, begins to change as a husband and father.  It never fully degrades like the father character in The Shining, but this more subtle change is unnerving coming from a man of Reed's brute frame.  He always had that smoldering undertone that made us believe that acting or not, you wouldn't want to turn your back on this guy for long.  And in this film, he uses it to great effect.

Gregory Peck, The Omen (1976)
Not the usual image we have of Atticus Finch.
Next on my informal list is The Omen (1976), which of course starred that stony-faced megastar Gregory Peck.  His appearance in this movie definitely gave credibility to the idea that any actor could consider appearing in a horror movie.  After all, he was arguably as big a star as Bette Davis.  And while she had an image as a bit of a feisty woman who never wanted to follow the rules, Peck had impeccable credentials as an all around good guy.   And Lee Remick had already been cast opposite some very big names.  She was already becoming a star.  As for the movie itself, I can't endorse it.  I tried to watch it, and it was so silly, I gave up early on it.  It just seemed so corny.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the 1979 Dracula starred none other than Laurence Olivier, often considered Britain's greatest Shakespearean actor.  In this film he plays Van Helsing, the Dutch doctor who is summoned to help puzzle out the malady that is afflicting the anemic Lucy.  What I like about Olivier's performance is his near perfect accent that truly mimics the syntax of Stoker's Van Helsing character.  He also manages to portray Van Helsing just as the character is written.  He is at times cute, odd, mysterious, bold, and even frail.  Olivier exhibits all of these mannerisms in a way that makes sense and is in no way forced.  I will point out that this is no stretch for Olivier to take on this role, since the source material is part of the classic canon.  However, he was also willing to join in on the bloody fun of Marathon Man in 1976, where he maniacally tortures Dustin Hoffman with a dentist's drill.  Obviously he did not seem to worry that such movies might hurt his respectable image.

George C. Scott, The Changeling (1980)
George C. Scott, a bigger-than-life star, took on the haunted house theme in the 1980 film The Changeling.  (Yes, 1980 is still the 70's for all you nit-pickers out there.)  And for me, this is one of the better modern haunted house stories.  Also drawing in Golden Age of Hollywood film star Melvyn Douglas (the man who made Garbo laugh in 1939's Ninotchka), a personal favorite of mine, this movie is saturated with atmosphere and will make you wary of old, high-backed wheelchairs.  At this point, Scott was definitely a major player in Hollywood, having been nominated for an Academy Award four times (and winning best actor for his signature role in Patton).  This was not his only outing in the horror genre, later playing the mystic Native American Indian in Firestarter and even joining the cast of The Exorcist III.

Of course, some horror fans out there would suggest that the biggest film for this genre in the 70's was The Exorcist, which certainly drew its share of Hollywood talent.  Max von Sydow was already an accomplished actor in 1973, as were Ellen Burstyn and the irascible Lee J. Cobb.  However, I'll concede they do not fit the profile of my A-listers whose impressive notoriety aided Horror as it matured into a respected film category.  But a little known fact about this movie should be highlighted here: the original actress offered the lead role by director William Friedkin was none other than Hollywood's most respected lady of the silver screen, Audrey Hepburn.  And she was actually willing to accept the role.  Unfortunately for Friedkin, she was something of a recluse by this time, and would only take the role if the filming could be done in Rome.  The studio said no, and Anne Bancroft eventually accepted the role, only to be forced to back out due to a pregnancy.  I often wonder just how Hepburn's casting might have changed this movie, and how it might have changed her already legendary career.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman, Fred Astaire,
and Melvyn Douglas, Ghost Story (1981)
This is not a complete listing of movies that fit this profile, but it gives you an idea of how the genre was changing.  By the 1980's, we would see more of the same.  Ghost Story, in 1981, starred no less than four classic actors: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman.  (And I shouldn't leave out Patricia Neal, a great lady from the Silver Age of Hollywood best known for her roles in Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Day the Earth Stood Still.)  Silence of the Lambs boasted stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.  Hopkins, of course, ended up winning the Best Actor Oscar for his horror role.

Will we see such casting again?  I'm sure it will happen.  Perhaps Sean Connery could be lured from retirement to star in a ghost or haunted house story.  Maybe Tom Hanks could be tempted into something more diabolic than his light-weight Dan Brown religious thrillers.  After all, Robert De Niro did play Frankenstein's monster in Kenneth Branagh's 1994 version of Frankenstein, though very few people saw it.

Sadly, much of the horror genre has been hijacked by the recent obsession with torture-porn, and this has drained a great deal of credibility from what these classic actors and actresses helped to create.  Will there come a time when the A-listers decide to take back what their predecessors built up?  Only time will tell.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dracula, the Bram Stoker novel: A View from a First-Time Reader

Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

As much as I enjoy Bram Stoker's short stories, (The Squaw is one of my favorites) I was sort of dreading this book.  First of all, I've seen so many different adaptations of the book I felt sure that none of this would be fresh to me, and it might possibly bore me simply from my familiarity with the story.  Add to that my aversion to the epistolary form of writing: segments of journals, transcriptions of audible journals as recorded on wax cylinders, newspaper clippings, letters.  I can only imagine what Stoker's story would look like today--blog entry, e-mail, telephone answering machine message, text, faxes.  Yikes.  So basically, I embarked on a book I had little hope of enjoying.  Why?  

I was never a fan of Dracula.  But like all kids, I was intrigued by his mystique.  One day, as a young lad (and I have no idea how old I was when this happened), I came across a movie version of Dracula on a Saturday afternoon.  (More than likely it was Creature Feature.  Anyone remember that?)  So I caught one of those  versions wonderfully desaturated right about the time the Count was running from one side of his stone castle to another, cape swinging with him, as he advanced upon Van Helsing, until finally Van Helsing yanks down the curtains as daylight creeps in and using crossed candlesticks forces Dracula into the sunshine where it hits him like a death-ray and turns him to dust, leaving only a few hairballs that sort of float off in the morning breeze.  This, I discovered later in life, was the 1958 Dracula.  It seemed sort of cool, but I didn't become a fan.  He was, after all, evil, and that didn't appeal to me.

Christopher Lee, in Count Dracula, a film by Jesus Franco, in which
he attempted to portray the Count as he was described by Bram
Stoker.  Something that Hollywood never seemed to get right.
I tried to read the book about twenty years ago, and maybe I was distracted, who knows, but I couldn't get into it.  I put it aside and just forgot about it.  I eventually saw the 1979 Dracula with Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing and Frank Langella in the title role.  Though this was one of the more egregious uses of the "sexy" Dracula, the Van Helsing portrayal is one of the more faithful to the book.  And speaking of the book, let's get back to it.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I enjoyed this novel.  I became accustomed to the epistolary style, though I did not grow fond of it.  I kept wondering how it would read if someone just took the darn thing and rewrote it in third person.  In fact, I would suspect that after all these years someone has.  I may look it up one day.  But the story itself really caught me by surprise.

Laurence Olivier (left) as Van Helsing in Dracula (1979).  This was
one of the most faithful portrayals of the character as Stoker wrote
him that I have seen.
There is so much to be admired in this book that it would take too long to list all of the elements that fall under this category.  Some of the highlights would be Renfield's story, Van Helsing's characterization as set forth by his accent and poor syntax, the fact that Dracula could be listed as a missing person for most of the book (which just made him that much more potent--something to be avoided at all costs), and even the exhaustive travel details of the 1890's.

Having seen the gory, modern Dracula movies, and the more discreet movies of the early days of cinema, I had this idea that the novel, written just before the turn of the 20th Century, would be so sanitized as to be dull.  However, I was surprised at how graphic a few of the scenes were.  It must have been quite a shocker for readers at that time.  But as one reviewer noted, it is not a story that glorifies evil, as most of the modern day vampire books do.  Instead, it truly vilifies the vampire, making him something to loathe, and hate, and something that must be destroyed as a sacred duty to God.  In no way did I ever pick up the completely audacious, Hollywood notion that Dracula has this inner, impossible-for-women-to-ignore, sexual attraction.  What a bunch of rubbish.

Need I say spoiler alert, when so many know the story?

The men are solid characters, all noble and willing to stand up to the horror that assails Lucy and Mina.  And these two women are strong characters in themselves.  Mina especially, despite the idea that Dracula has infected her against his will, is not just a doormat female cast member.  She even gets a Winchester rifle in her hand by the end of the book.

Leslie Nielsen in Mel Brooks' 1995 Dracula: Dead and Loving It, not a
faithful adaptation.
Speaking of spoilers, let me address the adaptations just a little.  Though no movie out there seems to have used all of the original story, I was surprised at how much of Stoker's novel has been used in the various films.  So much of it has been sprinkled over the various Dracula movies.  Yes, most of the movies never come close to filming the entire book, but many of them are quite accurate in what they depict from the novel and there was little in the book that I did not recognize from the many films.  I was quite impressed.  Still, Stoker's style kept it fresh and I never felt like I was going over stale material.

Though this is a long novel, clocking in over ten hours of reading for my reading-speed, I did not think it ever really dragged on slowly, and I found all of it interesting.  But if you decide not to read it, allow me one more spoiler:  never, at any point, will you read/hear Dracula say "I vant to suck yoor bloood."  Okay.  Now you know.  You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity: A Movie that will Sweep You Off Your Feet

Gravity, Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Think back to when you were a kid.  Your parents told you that they were taking you to a movie.  This is way back, like when you were so young that you barely knew what a movie was.  And they told you they were going to take you to doesn't matter, any movie will do.  I'm talking about that point when you were so young, you went to the theater and sat in awe staring at the wonders of that giant screen--it looked bigger than a football field at this point in your life--and everything you saw then was a miracle.  Towering images burned their way into your young brain and, though you didn't know it then, they would stick there on the pulsating wall of your mind's eye for the next three or four decades.  Have you got the picture?  Do you remember this?  Do you realize that is the reason we continue to go to the movies, again and again, despite the fact that time and time again we are disappointed by the overall impression made by dozens and dozens of mediocre movies filmed simply to sell popcorn?

But we never give up.  We try again.  Just one more.  And the next one after that.

For once, a modern-day director has finally managed to satisfy that longing.  There have been rare occasions when I feel I've nearly touched that sacred peak where entertainment is engulfed by the sheer awe and wonder of the world as seen through the eyes of a child.  Most of the time, in the midst of this yearning, I'm taken out of the moment by what is now too common in movies--a jarring political statement, a crass cheap-shot played for laughs, or a nod to the bitter, cynical world that we all discovered is awaiting us on the other side of youth.  Any one of these little devils wreaks havoc with our ability to sit back and just be engulfed in wonderment.

Alfonso Cuarón, Director of Gravity
Alfonso Cuarón has been able to tap into that child-like need for astonishment with the help of his son, Jonás Cuarón.  Together, they have written a story that is full of humanity, set in the cold vacuum of space.  That would have been enough, just to tell a story about the remarkable astronauts who orbit above us without much attention anymore.  But if they had, they would have ended up creating a film that we've seen before.  A little conflict between the astronauts, a longing for home, a moment of courage or desperation.  It would have been moving, a nice tribute to all of those who have ever strapped themselves to a rocket.  Once we left the dark confines of the theater, we would have returned to our normal lives without giving it much more thought.

With today's overabundance of CGI, as witnessed by the throngs of underwhelmed theater-goers who sat through monstrous action-epics like Man of Steel and White House Down this summer, it would have been easy for the Cuaróns to rely on the dazzle of CGI to carry the story.  Filmed in 3D, there would have been plenty of chances to startle the audience with the studio's whiz-bang, now-you-see-it-now-you-flinch usual bag of tricks.  Maybe use the over-used shaky-cam to ratchet up the nerves.  Today's filmmakers have a fairly limited supply of gimmicks and regularly overindulge in them.  

Cuarón does not.

I know what you're thinking.  You want me to get on with the review.  Forget the mystical ramblings and just write about the movie.  But that is nearly impossible, since this movie is too perfect to give much of it away.  For this same reason the trailer was astonishingly short.  If they put out a longer trailer than that first teaser trailer I never saw it, and I'm glad I didn't.  So don't get impatient.  And don't be disappointed.  I'm not going to tell you about the movie.  But I am telling you about it when I wax poetic.  But if you insist, I'll say what I can about the film without spoiling it.

Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in Gravity
It is nice to see Sandra Bullock return to her roots, playing the damsel-in-distress as she did the first time she won our hearts as that wildcat bus-driver in Speed.  And just as she played off Keanu Reeves so well in that movie, always looking to him to save her, yet surprising us with her own inner strength, in Gravity she does much the same thing with George Clooney.  However, as her world shatters around her in the terror of zero gravity, something more than inner strength shines through.  She does not transform into a superhero who curses the gods and overpowers the fates.  Instead, as the terror rises around her, suffocating her in that black expanse above our world, Bullock allows us to see a very human, traumatized, yet trained astronaut fight off the inertia of her inevitable doom.

George Clooney, who I believe has been slowly ingesting little bits of Cary Grant Elixer, and increasing the dosage lately, turns in a fine performance as the one man you would want to depend on in a crisis.  He is believable, and has perfectly engineered chemistry with Bulluck.  As the film spun out of control, I was glad to have Clooney there as an anchor.  A nice touch for this casting includes the voice of Ed Harris at mission control.  It gives us a sense of continuity, since Harris was in the same role in the spectacular film Apollo 13.

But never mind all that.  Let's get back to Cuarón and his creation of something...amazing.  Never before, including the awe-inspiring 2001: A Space Odyssey, has a director been able to pack so much heavy atmosphere into the vacuum of space.  Usually, when I give in and watch a 3D movie, I'm distracted by the many different things going on across the screen.  But in Gravity, I was so sucked into this world-outside-a-world that I remained fixated on the movie from beginning to end.  My daughter, who attended the film with me, asked later if something was wrong.  I usually make comments throughout a film; this time I barely said a word.  It might have been because I didn't want to waste the oxygen in the theater.  After all, oxygen levels become terrifyingly critical.  Trust me.

Mostly, though, I think it was just that little kid in me, staring in awe at the screen, as a vision filled with miracles, nuts and bolts, and the need to grab hold of anything captured my imagination for 90 minutes.  That little voice that said "finally, it's here, this is why we go to the movies."

Don't miss your chance to see this on the big screen, in 3D.  Just be sure you find something to hold onto.  But if you don't, it won't matter, because the father and son team of Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón will grab hold of you and never let go.  

Cities of the Dead: Double Vision

Cities of the Dead, Jason Phillip Reeser

For newer readers of Room With No View, I'd like to let them know about my most popular book, which is perfect for this time of year.  Cities of the Dead is a ghost story collection set in the cemeteries of New Orleans, Louisiana.  Tales of ghosts, pirates, thieves, and dead rock-and-rollers can be found in this eclectic congregation of mystical chronicles.

Back in 2006, my wife and I took a guided tour of Lafayette Cemetery Number One in the historic Garden District of New Orleans.  It was the first time I'd been to one of the many above ground cemeteries that are nestled into the various neighborhoods of the Crescent City.  Due to the fact that the city sits below sea level, burying the dead is not possible, since the dead seemingly refuse to stay buried.  Citizens of the early city discovered that the saturated ground always shoved the dead back to the surface.  The simple response was to bury the dead above ground in crypts.  As a result, the cemeteries look like...well, let's let Mark Twain describe it.  His view on it sums it up the best:

Lafayette Cemetery Number One
There is no architecture in New Orleans, except in the cemeteries. They bury their dead in vaults above ground. These vaults have a resemblance to houses--sometimes to temples; are built of marble, generally; are architecturally graceful and shapely; they face the walks and driveways of the cemetery; and when one moves through the midst of a thousand or so of them, and sees their white roofs and gables stretching into the distance on every hand, the phrase 'city of the dead' has all at once a meaning to him. Many of the cemeteries are beautiful and kept in perfect order...if those people down there would live as neatly while they were alive as they do after they are dead, they would find many advantages to it.

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1880

During our 2006 tour, which was just one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated that venerable city, amid the rasping wail of power-saws and chattering hammer blows (evidence of New Orleans' second reconstruction phase), we followed our guide past sun-bleached sepulchers and vibrant green alleys of thick, recently mown grass.  As a writer, I was struck by the crowded nature of this necropolis.  I began to wonder just what it would be like for ghosts to live here.  We generally think of ghosts in lonely, empty places like an abandoned house or a distant moor.  But here, if a ghost were to haunt the earth, it would not be lonely.  It would, in fact, be heavily beset by other ghosts.  Many of the crypts are family crypts, and family members are stacked in on top of one another like chord-wood.  Imagine, I thought, what sort of complications would arise between them all?

At the 2012 Louisiana Book Festival--look for us again on Nov. 2, 2013
Before long, I had begun to write a few stories along this theme.  Over the next four or five years, I added more stories, until I'd completed thirteen of them.  It seemed an appropriate number on which to stop.  Since the book's publication, it has been well-received.  It is a mainstay on the tables of a handful of stores down in the French Quarter, and was a popular item during its release at the 2012 Louisiana Book Festival.

Several of the stories are available here at Room With No View.  Just click on the links below to read them.
The Wanting Dead  (originally printed in The Louisiana Review, Spring 2008)

And now for the Double Vision!  Beginning this month, Saint James Infirmary Books has made it possible for costumers who purchase the print version of COTD to receive a free eBook version along with it.  Even better, if you purchased a copy of this book through Amazon in the past, you can log in and receive your free eBook copy also.  We are offering the same free eBook copy from the Saint James Infirmary Books website.  If you purchased a print copy from us (and all of our copies can be signed if you request it) or you choose to purchase one from us now, we will send you a free eBook copy of the book.  So be sure to get a copy today if you don't already have one.

For more information on the book, check out our website here.

To order a signed copy, just click this link.

Or you can use one of the Amazon links below.  The Kindle edition is on the left, the print edition is on the right.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2014 Calendars from Saint James Infirmary Books

From our Paris (Black and White) 2014 Calendar.
From our Paris 2014 wall calendar.
From our New Orleans' French Quarter 2014 calendar.
From our New Orleans Doors 2014 calendar

During the month of October, all of our calendars have a 30% discount.  Choose from our selection of New Orleans and Paris collections, and enter the code 2014CALENDAR at checkout.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

David Morrell's Unexpected View of Frank Sinatra: The Artist and His Music

I had set out to write a review of David Morrell's unique thriller Murder as a Fine Art (which I still intend to write) but as I was researching the author, I came across something unexpected: this thriller writer, the man who created John Rambo in his debut novel First Blood in 1972, which eventually greatly influenced the thriller genre of that era (and continues to do so today!), had stepped way out of his expected role and written a short biography that examined the music of Frank Sinatra.  I was intrigued.  I'm a huge Sinatra fan, and I did not hesitate to grab this eBook off the shelf.

For two hours, I did not put down my Kindle.  I read it straight through.  And why not?  Morrell essentially leads us through a written two-hour concert tribute to Frank Sinatra's career, while highlighting the songs and albums, and mixing in the singer's personal, tumultuous history as it affected his outlook, his voice, his success, and his failures. Sinatra had an unbelievably long and prolific career, yet Morrell manages to make sense of it all, weaving it into a narrative that left me with a mosaic image of Sinatra I've never had before.

Not one to rest on is laurels, David Morrell
leaves the thriller genre to give us an intimate
look at the musical career of Frank Sinatra.
(picture courtesy of
Instead of just writing about the popularity of the man, Morrell focuses more on the musical influences and choices made by the Chairman of the Board, covering many behind-the-scenes moments in the recording booths at Columbia, Capital, and Reprise Records. More importantly, he "gets" Sinatra. He understands that this man stood out with his attention to details like timing, diction, and lyrical passion. He explains the way Sinatra used to write out the lyrics by hand, over and over again, until he discovered the underlying meaning to the words, so he could sing those meanings back to the microphone and the audience. What Morrell really does here is explain to us why we like Sinatra. And as a big fan of Frank's, I'd say Morrell gets it right. If you love Sinatra, you've got to read this. If you are ambivalent about him, read this and you'll very likely come away with admiration for the man you never thought you'd have. If you hate him, this might just change your mind.

One of the many albums Morrell highlights of Sinatra's is In the Wee Small Hours (1955).  This has always been a favorite of mine, and the coverage it receives here is indicative of Morrell's insight into the man and his music.  If you are only familiar with Sinatra's big hits, and you want to hear one of his best concept albums (and as Morrell points out, Sinatra helped to develop the concept of the concept album) then click on that link at the bottom and download this album.  Sit back and be prepared to be won over by a sound experience you won't soon forget.

Morrell's study of Frank Sinatra does not shy away from letting us see the troubled side of this artist, but he never turns this piece into a gossip column. Instead, he shows how the alcoholism and the womanizing and the combativeness of this manic depressive combined to influence an industry that was just coming into its own in the middle of the last century. Was Sinatra a scoundrel at times? Yes. Was he sympathetic? Absolutely. In fact, both of those factors were a major reason for the public's interest in him. All of it came together to create an international icon that still influences pop-culture today. But Morrell does not dwell on these aspects of Sinatra's life. He keeps the story firmly on the music. And that's as it should be. Because Sinatra's music is a story worth reading. And David Morrell does Frank Sinatra's entire career justice in this short but exhaustive history of this brilliant, troubled artist and his remarkable music.

In addition to this piece on Frank Sinatra, Morrell also wrote one on Nelson Riddle, the arranger that became such an integral part of Sinatra's sound.  Riddle came to my attention with Sinatra first, but I began to see his footprint in many other areas of music, notably in the Ultra-Lounge CD series, as well as in such classic movies as Pal Joey and High Society and on television shows like Emergency! and even Newhart.  So I was aware of Riddle and had a high regard for his sound.  At the same time I bought Morrell's eBook on Sinatra, I grabbed his Nelson Riddle eBook as well: Nelson Riddle: The Man behind the Music, an essay (The David Morrell Cultural-Icon Series).  I haven't read it yet, but I look forward to it with eager anticipation.

And I still intend to write that review on Murder as a Fine Art.  Just not today.  Keep an eye out for it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Lost Books of my Youth

One of the many overloaded
bookshelves in our home.
Lately I've been spending a great deal of time thinking about books.  I know, this is hardly a surprise to those of you who know me or read this blog on a regular basis.  But I'm not just talking about writing books, or even reading books.  I'm talking about a collection of books I used to have when I was younger.  Let me explain.

When I was a kid, oh, like thirty-plus years ago, I can remember when it really started for me.  I was at a flea market, a really big one.  And as I walked past tables and tables of old farm implements (you know, the really scary looking ones that are used in all the slasher flicks) and used sewing machines and vintage toys and rusted old signs (this was before all the signs were reproductions), I came to a stop at a table with a bunch of old books mashed together with their spines facing the open sky.  It was a wonderful sight and I forgot all about the other vendors and settled in to look at those old tomes.

All of them were hardbacks.  I don't think any of them had dust jackets on them.  Just plenty of beautiful cloth covered books with titles imprinted on their spines.  Often the front cover was blank; a soft blue, or stark green, or even a faded red.

I don't remember how it was I had money in my pocket, but I must have had some.  Perhaps my parents had given me a few dollars to spend that day.  I was too young to be earning anything at that time.  But I was so entranced by these books, and they were so cheap, that I bought a good number of them.  An old Ben-Hur was among them; with a solid dark green cover, it had a fancy illustration on the front cover made of gold an silver leafing.  I knew it wasn't real, but it was dazzling to see.  A great big Robert Louis Stevenson volume of The Wrecker, which I'd never heard of, and a strange little book entitled The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  I'd never heard of that before either.  I certainly had no idea what an autocrat was.  Why I picked that book I cannot remember.  But pick it I did, and it became a mysterious member of my collection.

Over time, I began to seek out more old books; a great big blue Gone With the Wind, a Vanity Fair by Thackeray, a slim volume of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and other odd, strange, and delightful titles.  I read a great deal back then, but I rarely read much of the hardback collection I had gathered.  The edition of The Wrecker couldn't be read.  Many of the pages had not been cut.  This fascinated me, I had no idea books were printed like this, and I often pulled it out to try and peer in between the pages that were uncut.  This was always a challenge.

Eventually I amassed about forty or fifty hardbacks that became something of a burden on my family.  We moved more often than the average family, and boxing up and moving these books was a bit of a problem.  Lugging boxes of hardback books up and down stairs is a memorable experience, to say the least.  However, I don't recall my parents complaining about them, and they stayed with me until I married.  I still regret the fact that I loaded most of them up and sold them to a used books store one day so that we could make the rent payment early in our marriage.  I really didn't get much for them.  Pretty much nothing at all.  Of the ones I held onto, most of them were ruined when hurricane Rita blew through the back of our home in 2005.  They ended up in a pile of wet pulpy trash on the side of the road.

The survivors.  By the way, whatever happened to Thomas B. Costain?
When I was a kid, there was always a wide selection of his books
in every library.  I suppose he was the James Patterson of his day.
Searching the stacks and stacks of books I've accumulated since I married, I can only find a few of the original (and to me, infamous!) hardbacks.  I still have that Gone With the Wind, and a rather gaudy looking The Silver Chalice.  One of my favorites from that collection, and one of the few that had a dust cover, was Thomas B. Costain's The Tontine.  (This was the first of two volumes.  I never did own the second, though I read them both.  I can't remember where I finally found the second volume.  Must have been a library, since I didn't buy it.  After all these years, I can finally buy the second volume for a few dollars on Amazon Marketplace.  Maybe one day I will.)

I read all three of those books.  Of the others I had collected, I read The Moon is Down by Steinbeck (a wonderful book!), and maybe only one or two others.  I read a little from the collected works of Washington Irving.  But many of these old books were so old, the pages were brittle and I was not too keen on ruining them.  It was as if I had become like the Eloi, from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, existing side by side with the great literature of mankind yet never reading them as they slowly decayed into nothingness.  Actually, a number of them I actually did read, but I used volumes from the library so as not to cause undue damage to the older hardbacks.

I have a newer collection of books now; hundreds of books are scattered throughout my house.  I don't move anymore.  Or haven't for some time, which is a good thing considering the total weight of books in our house.  A little more than half of the books I have now I've read.  There are a few that I haven't read and will never read.  But getting rid of them is hard.  I still bear the scars from that trip to the used bookseller to pay the rent.  But I still enjoy looking over the titles, some with fond memories of what I'd read in them, some with the excitement of not yet knowing what is in them.

Most of my reading is done on a Kindle now.  I can carry all of the books I've ever read and ever want to read in that one, slim digital device.  Yet I'll always cherish the books that clutter up the house.  They're important.  I expect my grandchildren to grow up around them, occasionally pulling them out and paging through them with curiosity and wonder.  I'd be disappointed if they didn't.  They were always here for my kids, and I know it had an effect on them.  You can't grow up in a house full of books and not be influenced by them.

Now I've got to go finish the latest book I'm reading.  I've collected over thirty titles on my Kindle that I have yet to read and I really need to get to them.  So many little time.