Neglected Noir

Barber Chairs in Ice Storm, 2020

The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun by Sebastian Japrisot

Noir Psychological ThrillerFemale Protagonist20th Century

What if OTHER people seemed to be having deja vu when they saw you, swearing you’d been in the same place just a while ago, when you knew that was impossible? That’s just the start of the mind-bending plight of Dany, a Parisian secretary whose trip in her boss’s car to the sea has turned her world upside down and brought death along with it. A puzzle that will drive you mad and never lets up until the very end.

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich

Noir Female Antagonist20th Century

 A woman, chameleon-like, seeks out seemingly unconnected men and kills them one after another. But why? What connects the men? Who is Julie, the mastermind of these murders? Woolrich, writing as William Irish, was a prodigious, mid-century master of suspense and this one  became the basis for a Francois Truffaut homage to Hitchcock. The original novel still sustains its power as we wonder all along, “Why is she killing them, and should I be rooting for or against Julie?”

The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

Noir Psychological Thriller20th Century

A psychiatrist listens as his new patient tells him leprechauns are making him give away his money. When the shrink meets what seems to merely be a little person, who now tells his patient to start giving away horses, things go from bad to worse and the shrink wakes up six months later in a psychiatric hospital with a disfiguring scar and no idea what has happened. Nor do we, but the little-read Bardin ingeniously unravels the mystery for us as the doctor assumes a new identity and strives to find out.

Mid-century Stalker Noir

Watcher Ekebergsletta, Oslo, Norway (2018)

The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith

20th CenturyNoirSuspenseThriller

Best known for Strangers on a Train and the Ripley novels, Highsmith was best with psychopaths and stalkers. His marriage in ruins and his sexuality in doubt, Robert Forester starts observing and then stalking a young woman, who befriends him. But in this odd and awful small-town tragedy, few things are what they seem, fewer people can be trusted, the dead live, the past returns and the stalker may be the least evil person we meet. Highsmith at her most acidic.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

20th CenturyNoirSuspenseThriller

Dix Steele is aimless in Los Angeles after World War II, a former Air Force pilot who now sponges off a rich relative while prowling out of the way places and following women out on their own. But is he the strangler that is haunting the city? And will his war buddy, now a cop, figure out what Dix has become? We spend the novel inside the mind of the charming, volatile sociopath while wondering when he will make a mistake and when we, like his friend Brub, will know for sure what Dix has done.

Beast in View by Margaret Millar

20th Century NoirSuspenseThriller

Who is Evelyn Merrick and why is she calling? Nothing good happens anytime this mysterious stalker calls, and while Millar’s febrile psychological thriller may resemble a standard “find the stalker” potboiler, the thrills come not from figuring it all out but the fascination about what drives Merrick and the titillation from what she will do next. The madness behind Merrick’s behavior is a dreadful poison for anyone it touches and Millar’s mid-century classic deserves revisiting.

Just Some Poems

because in times of uncertainty, poems can be buoys

Gowanus, 2019

“The World below the brine” by Walt Whitman

Poets and Poetry19th Century

 My very favorite Whitman. Something about the world that exists below, in the darkness of the ocean, reminds me that there are things that we humans will never know, and that, for some reason, makes me calm and hopeful. 

Read The World below the brine

“American Smooth” by Rita Dove

Poets and Poetry21st Century

Rita Dove is a genius of verse and one of our greatest living poets. The dueling powers of serene elation and melancholy reality make this poem both exquisitely tragic and perfectly (and tragically) American.

Read American Smooth

High Windows” by Philip Larkin

Poets and Poetry 20th Century

Larkin is one of my top five favorite poets of all time. This was the poem that first pulled me to him.

Read High Windows

Surf Noir

Ionian Sea- Giardini Naxos, Sicily, 2018

Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn 

Surf fictionNoir20th Century

The progenitor of the surf noir genre, Nunn drops a man on a search into a dangerous Huntington beach blender of drug dealers, wacked out surfers, angry Vietnam veterans, and plenty of violence on the dark side of the Golden State. Built on the California ennui style Ross Macdonald crafted in his Archer novels, Nunn’s book helped create a different setting for the lonely man fighting for what’s right among the lotus-eaters.

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Surf fictionNoir 21st Century

Now better known for his Cartel drug trilogy, Winslow created the ideal surfing detective, an ex-cop private investigator who works only so he can surf every morning with other aging boarders. But when he’s given a chance to correct a haunting mistake from the past, as well as work with an attractive attorney on bringing down an insurance scam, he’s in. Winslow is pacey, sure, and engaging as ever, though the rot inside the Golden State breaks through.

Pirata by Patrick Hasburgh

Surf fictionNoir21st Century

A former successful California car salesman ends up down, out, and one-eyed in Mexico, where he surfs, drinks and hangs out with other wave-mad expats. But the monsoon season brings shifting relationships and when a body washes up on the local surf spot, the past, as always, returns in unexpected ways. Humourous and suspenseful, it’s a wild ride.

Personal Essays

Current Events, 2020

The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 by James Baldwin

Non-Fiction20th CenturyPersonal EssaysClassics

The Price of the Ticket contains almost every piece of nonfiction the great and prophetic Baldwin wrote, from his earliest published works to those in the final years of his life. Ranging from his longest and most famous essays like The Fire Next Time to shorter works of literary criticism, Baldwin’s brilliant and exquisitely articulated observations are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. Steadfast and melodic, the ghost-like echo of Baldwin’s singular voice rings out from every sentence, every word. The Price of the Ticket is an essential American classic. 

The Art of the Personal Essay, An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present Selected by Phillip Lopate

Non-FictionAnthologyPersonal EssaysClassics

A comprehensive compendium of the form, The Art of the Personal Essay begins with the work of “forerunners” like Seneca, Plutarch, and Hsiu. In the four sections that follow, Lopate winds his way from Montaigne, Hazlitt, and Edgeworth to Woolf, Baldwin, and Rodriguez, and almost every major essayist in between. Roland Barthes’ views on cinema, G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on wearing hats on windy days, and Joan Didion’s reflections on her crushing migraines, are just a few of the many topics covered in this hefty volume.

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Non-Fiction-21st CenturyPersonal Essays

In six essays, the inimitable Zadie Smith offers her crystalline observations of life during the early days of the lockdown. Setting her keen eye on the individuals she encounters on a daily basis, Smith brings their lives into focus against the backdrop of a world grappling with both COVID and the unrelenting virus of hate. In a time of social isolation, Intimations reminds us that we are still here and if we put down our phones long enough to take a look around, we may notice each other, not simply as masked strangers, but as fellow participants in this “global humbling.”

Nature Writing

View of the Grand from Delta Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

NatureNon-Fiction-20th Century

Little noticed when published posthumously, Leopold’s ruminations on the seasonal changes in the natural world near his farm in Wisconsin, along with his essays on humanity’s impact on the environment up until that time, helped set off the movement to restore and protect Earth’s ecology. We aren’t only stewards of the natural world – we are OF the natural world and Leopold reminds us that it is inescapably part of who we are.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Creek by Annie Dillard

NatureNon-Fiction20th Century

Dillard has said she doesn’t think of herself as a nature writer, but her inner monologues about God, Christianity, nature, consciousness, evil and meaning are grounded in the natural world even when they lift off into airier planes. As a stylist, she’s superb, but her observations about nature put her in the company of one of her literary heroes, Thoreau.

King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz

NatureNon-FictionAnimals20th Century

Nobel prize winner and one of the founders of ethology, or the study of animals as they behave in their environment, Lorenz wrote charmingly and provided whimsical illustrations in this effort to popularize what then might have seemed radical – that animal behavior is understandable, learnable and much closer psychologically speaking to human than we might care to admit.

Narratives in Verse

Baltic Sea From Helsingør, pastel on paper

Omeros by Dereck Walcott

Poets and PoetryEpic20th Century

Nobel Prize winner Dereck Walcott’s epic masterpiece, Omeros, is Homeric in scope but entirely Walcott in both its message and poetic technique. The poet tackles the tragedy of colonialism, the subjugation of land and people, specifically, his native island of St. Lucia (“the Helen of the West Indies”) with luminous, natural imagery and a loose yet impactful terza rima scheme. 

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

Poets and Poetry20th Century

Written as an exercise to detach from the tedious demands of an economics doctoral program, The Golden Gate explores the complexities of monogamy, marriage, and friendship in 1980s San Francisco. What makes this work so singularly impressive is that Seth is able to utilize the sonnet as a vehicle for conveying an expansive yet nuanced narrative of modern love and loss.  

Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson

Poets and Poetry21st CenturyBiography

Poet and essayist Maggie Nelson tells the story of her aunt Jane’s short life and murder through a series of poetic, dreamscapes that draw from her aunt’s journal, family memories, and her own exquisite imagination.  The result is a haunting biography in verse that both celebrates and eulogizes a young woman whose promising life was mercilessly cut short.

Writers on Writing

Solitary Turbine, oil on canvas, 2017

The Reader Over Your Shoulder by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

Style guide20th Century

Concieved on the cusp of WWII, Graves and Hodge’s guide to writing prose in the English language was developed in an effort to preserve some semblance of certainty at a time when life, as they knew it, was about to become a memory. The Reader Over Your Shoulder is not only a guide for creating clear and impactful prose; it is also an exploration of the history of writing in English, peculiarities of the language itself, and the many styles of writing that can be crafted from it. Above all else, Graves and Hodge shepherd us through the essential techniques needed to set down our thoughts with clarity and grace. 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Memoir20th Century

Perhaps Bird by Bird is so widely beloved because it honestly acknowledges the terror and self-loathing that can be felt by so many of us who endeavor to write. With humor, warmth, and practicality, novelist and essayest, Anne Lamott offers her wisdom on dealing with “shitty” first drafts (“the child’s draft”), perfectionism (“the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people”), how to quiet negative voices (“say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we are going to do right now is write a description of the river at sunrise…”) and how to get started on a short assignment (write down as much as you can see “through a one-inch picture frame”). Over and over within this little gem of a book, Lamott gives us the gift of light in the void of self-doubt.

On Writing by Stephen King

Memoir21st Century

“Sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” This is Stephen King’s way of telling us to just keep writing, even if we feel like the entire enterprise is useless. Indeed, of all the advice the prolific novelist doles out in this Memoir of the Craft, the one that resonates most is that in order to learn how to write well, one must practice writing “without fear and affectation” and dispense with the notion that there is actually “good” or “bad” writing. With his razor-sharp honesty and biting humor, King reminds us that the real monster in every writer’s closet is him or herself.

Erotic Memoirs

Librarian

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel R. Delany

EroticMemoirCultural History20th Century

Samuel R. Delany, best known for his groundbreaking science fiction, chronicles his escapades on Forty-second street in this vivid and honest memoir. If you were even mildly tickled by David Simon’s attempt to recapture the glory days of Times Square smut in The Deuce, you will likely delight in Delany’s nostalgic descent into the recesses of the theaters, peep shows, and toy shops, while he describes a world in which men, both straight and gay, felt the freedom to indulge in their desires and at the same time tap into a tenuous yet potent feeling of camaraderie and community that has long since been replaced by cartoon musicals and personal handheld devices.

The Surrender by Toni Bentley

EroticMemoir21st Century

Dancer Toni Bentley is effusive and at times hyperbolic in her admiration for backdoor bliss, but despite the dramatic flair, her memoir can’t help being both sincere and charming in its way. By exalting both the physical sensation and the incredible sense of power and release she feels while engaging in the act of anal sex, Bentley makes a convincing plug for those who have yet to cross this particular Rubicon. 

A Letter From My Father: The Strange, Intimate Correspondence of W. Ward Smith to His Son Page Smith by Page Smith

EroticMemoir20th Century

Strange and intimate indeed! Upon his father’s death in 1968, Page Smith was bequeathed the epic letter that his father had intended for him to read and learn from.  In between the mundane details of his business and family life, W. Ward Smith frequently litters his missive with intensely graphic retellings of his gluttonous sexual escapades that spanned decades. Thankfully, Page Smith rejected his initial impulse to burn the over ten-thousand pages, and instead decided to publish A Letter From My Father, making it a rare and abundant social/sexual document written by a genuine and prolific libertine. 

Whimsical, Satirical, and Charming

Hidden Figures

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

In the 1880s, leisure boating took hold in Great Britain, and thus Jerome K. Jerome planned a trip to write a Thames boating travelogue. He ended up, after traveling with two friends up the river from Kingston to Oxford, with a witty, whimsical, and thoroughly charming little book. Refreshing and unrushed, an absolute charmer.

Jurgen by James Branch Cabell

He counted among his admirers H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, and Sinclair Lewis, and wrote dozens of novels set in an arch and very adult fantasy world. Jurgen won Cabell notoriety for its supposed salaciousness – our hero is a serial seducer which did not go over well in 1919 America, but sex is not the point – satire and deft writing is as Jurgen goes all the way to Hell on his travels.

The Complete Stories of Saki by H. H. Munro

A vengeful ferret deity, a talking cat, a woman reincarnated as an otter, and the foibles of countless upper-class twits – Saki merged the strange, the silly, and the laughable in dozens of compact and memorable stories set among the toffs in Great Britain pre-WWI. Clever young boys and devious young men are his favorite heroes, but there’s a bite of nasty delight in all his work.