California Literary Review


A Watchful Eye On… Sherlock Holmes


December 15th, 2010

Sherlock Holmes as a strict Victorian period piece is over and done with, but the character still has potential in a new context. The only rule is not to stray from the unique faculties that make Sherlock such a distinctive and popular hero. If the story’s focus ceases to be the detective’s brilliant deductive logic, then the magic is lost and the character wasted. If, however, due attention and respect are paid to this detail, the rest is free and open to broader interpretation.

Tom Russell: American Primitive Man


December 13th, 2010

Every Tom Russell song has something to say about the human heart. In each voice he invokes there are universal echoes of love, doubt, weakness, fear, restlessness and faith. The figure of the wanderer – whether soldier, cowboy, nomad, pioneer, outcast or pilgrim – passes again and again through his work.

Bret Easton Ellis: Film requires the male gaze, female directors need not apply


May 19th, 2010

Movieline printed an interview with author Bret Easton Ellis, whose most famous work is probably American Psycho, which director Mary Harron translated into a bizarre little film starring Christian Bale in 2000. Bret Easton Ellis in a publicity shot (from here). Ellis’s books are infinitely dark, angry, and sometimes downright shocking. They are about the […]

Book Review: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro


May 3rd, 2010

Beginning around 1800, the hunt started to find the “real” Shakespeare, the noble visionary who had exalted the spiritual struggles of humankind and celebrated the comedy of errors of our daily lives. In this engaging and well-researched book, James Shapiro charts the course of this pursuit of truth and beauty, arriving at conclusions that reflect both his insightful scholarship and common sense. Amassing an unassailable body of evidence, Shapiro proves that William Shakespeare of Stratford did indeed write the plays and poems credited to him, but not always as a solitary creative genius.

Book Review: Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth by Charles Beauclerk


April 6th, 2010

I would have thought Shakespeare in Love might have advanced our understanding of the authorship debate, but apparently not. Writers are still assuming that Shakespeare, be he lowly or lordly, wrote in some kind of mysterious vacuum, where learning stopped after the age of twenty. The idea that an Elizabethan dramatist could collaborate with his fellow actors, seek advice from scholars, listen to firsthand accounts from worldly patrons, observe royal scandals from backstage or borrow a bloody book now and again is apparently impossible.

A Conversation with Author and McSweeney’s Editor Paul Collins


July 31st, 2009

“I think most scholars tend to trust the First Folio more than anything else, not because of the materials that went into it, in terms of what papers did they have on hand, but because it was [the actors] Heminge and Condell. Because it’s the only two people that were directly involved in the productions, that have ever taken part in pulling together an edition of Shakespeare’s works, and so it’s their presence as much as any identifiable set of documents that made the Folio so important to scholars. They’re all we have in terms of eyewitness editing.”

Love Junkie by Rachel Resnick


November 12th, 2008

It takes an enormous amount of courage for Resnick to put her life story on the page. Her writing is as stripped, raw and intense as her emotions, and at times you don’t want to read further. But you do, anyway, with a kind of abject horror. The two main men that parade through her life, who ultimately woo, use and abuse her are truly the type of guys your mother would warn you to stay far away from.

O Beloved Kids: Rudyard Kipling’s Letters to his Children


July 17th, 2008

An Imperialist, a warmonger, blind to what was in front of him, the critics say. A Nobelist, a wordmonger, enshrined in Western memory, answer his supporters. All of these Kipling has been, but it is as a father, first and foremost, that he appears in O Beloved Kids.

George & Jacintha: On the Limits of Literary Biography


April 2nd, 2008

The claim that George Orwell once tried to rape someone received scant attention in the United States, perhaps because the book bearing the charge did not become readily available. It made news in Great Britain, where the newly amended memoir of his supposed victim appeared and where one of the novelist’s biographers gave credence to the charge. When I saw a passing mention of the accusation in a book review, it disturbed me and prompted me to dig deeply into the matter.

Coffee with… Series


March 20th, 2008

Barnes’s giant of the Western world is short, sharp, and funny, and well worth spending time with, even if he is, perhaps, more modern Englishman than ancient Greek in some places. As a taste of philosophical ideas Coffee with Aristotle is just right – now if only the longer treatises were as palatable.

My Father’s World


March 12th, 2008

In my father’s world, books are sacred objects. Authors are to be worshiped, especially those who write literature. Novelists, poets, and playwrights are among those ensconced in his pantheon. For my father, literature was not simply a subject he studied formally, but a larger vocation. He haunted bookstores. In Albany he sat at the feet of a man named Lockrow who owned his favorite shop, Lockrow’s Bookstore at 52½ Spring Street.

Notes From Italy: Villains, Romance, and Views


February 7th, 2008

Filettino was not always a happy place, in history or in fiction. In the time of the Caesars the people here were Aequi, an Italic tribe of rough herders whom the Romans subdued with difficulty. For many centuries, probably millennia, the Aequi practiced transhumance, leading their herds over the Serra in late autumn to spend the winter in pastures in the Liri valley far below, and returning to the uplands for summer.

Lots in a Name


January 21st, 2008

Rather more subtle is Hercule Poirot, whose name contains elements of both “Hercules”, the classical hero, and “Pierrot”, the Italian clown – an interesting combination of heroism and buffoonery. The name reflects Christie’s practice of presenting Poirot alternately as a figure of fun and a stern emissary of justice. Dorothy L. Sayers balances her detective hero in a similar way – Peter Wimsey’s name has all the connotations of his silly-ass-about-town persona, but he is shadowed by his middle name – “Death.”

Murdering Miss Austen


December 6th, 2007

Jane Austen, whose sharp tongue barely left her cheek during her short lifetime, and, whose caustic satire survived the intervening centuries of industrialization, through revolution and war, as well as the whirligig of literary fashions (whose onslaught took down others as great) may finally be deflated or drowned in the crazy waves of idiot’s delights!

The Solution to History


October 3rd, 2007

These days the historical mystery buff can choose from works featuring Owen Archer, Prioress Eleanor, Petroc of Auneford, Mathew Shardlake, and many others. From a brief survey of the genre, it’s a wonder that anyone noticed when the Black Death took hold, as the inhabitants of Britain had apparently been offing each other in industrial numbers right through the medieval era.

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