Confessions of a Book Burner – A novelist and poet’s engrossing journey to find her creativity and strength – #bookreview

 

Confessions of a Book Burner

Lucha Corpi

 (Arte Público Press – paperback )

 

In the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, a school teacher who knew the Corpi family let little four-year-old Lucha come to class with her older brother and spend each day sitting quietly at the back of the room.

As Lucha watched and listened, she soon began learning how to read and write and also how, literally, to blend into backgrounds.

These skills later would serve her well at a pivotal moment in her adult life, when she suddenly found herself a divorced young mother living in a foreign country, the United States, with a young son to support  while surrounded by racial bias.

Confessions of a Book Burner is a well-written collection of personal essays and stories that reflect on Lucha Corpi’s journey to becoming a novelist, poet and teacher, and then, breaking out of her in-the-background comfort zone, becoming a San Francisco Bay-area activist for bilingual education, women’s rights, and civil rights.

“Throughout my life, no matter where I’ve lived, silence and melancholy have been my friends and allies,” she writes in her memoir. “They’ve aided the internalization of feeling and the introspection necessary to find the variety of incongruent elements in my conscious and subconscious mind that eventually come together to form [a] poem” or other written work.

“Teaching, writing and motherhood, all-consuming aspects of my life, hardly allowed me time to wallow in self-pity or regret,” she adds.

Lucha Corpi is now an internationally recognized novelist, poet, and author of children’s books. Among her works are four novels in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series, which she began after reading “many mystery novels as well as author interviews on the writing of crime fiction….”

She continues: “Every road taken in my search for the reason Chicanas do not write mysteries kept leading me back to the reading corner. Sin lectura no hay ni escritura e literatura–there is no literature without reading and writing.” Her informal surveys of Chicanas and Latinas convinced her that these readers turned away from mysteries because they don’t like stories about crime and guns and women as victims and seldom have read them.

To that, she writes: “I can…assure any Chicana who is now contemplating penning a mystery novel that the writing of crime fiction, when one respects one’s art, is as legitimate as any other kind of writing; that exposing the machinations of a ‘justice system’ which more often than not stacks the deck against women, especially women of color, is not only all right; it is also a way to obtaining justice  for those who won’t or can’t speak for themselves.”

Si Dunn

BOOK BRIEFS: Movie Stunts, Famous Bandits and a World War I Regiment – #bookreview

Cowboy Stuntman

From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen
Dean Smith with Mike Cox
(Texas Tech University Press – hardback, Kindle)

Dean Smith won an Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter relays at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Then the 20-year-old returned home to Northwest Texas, where he had been a rodeo cowboy. Later, he dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin, spent time in the Army and briefly played professional football with the Los Angeles Rams. But he dreamed of working in Western movies. He finally got his break in 1957, in Dallas. He met up with a friend from Oklahoma whom he had known as Jim Bumgarner. Bumgarner now called himself James Garner, and he was the star of a new TV show, “Maverick.” Garner got Smith into the Hollywood movie and TV stunt business. More than 50 years later, Smith’s entertaining memoir covers not only his rural Texas years but his long career “doubling” in risky action scenes for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Roy Rogers, Robert Redford, and even Maureen O’Hara.

***

Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years

William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
(Kensington Books – hardback, Kindle)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid most likely are dead — very dead — by now. But rumors persist that the two famous bandits survived a shootout with Bolivian soldiers after they stole a Bolivian silver mine’s payroll in 1908. Then they escaped back to America and disappeared. Prolific author William W. Johnstone has taken those rumors one step further and created a clever, pleasant novel set in 1950. It features a dedicated young Pinkerton detective who happens to be the son and grandson of Pinkerton agents who tried and failed to track down the famed bandits. But the book’s key character is an 85-year-old West Texas rancher who can spin a very good tale–and who might be, or may not be, be Cassidy himself.

***

They Called Them Soldier Boys

A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
Gregory W. Ball
(University of North Texas Press – hardback)

Historian Gregory W. Ball’s new book is a well-written study of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment, its combat experiences in France in World War I, and what happened to many of its soldiers after they returned home to Texas n 1919. One of the Texas National Guard regiments that made up the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division, the 7th Texas  took part in some of World War I’s biggest battles. “What those soldiers experienced, what they felt, and how they expressed themselves to their loved ones back home,” Ball writes, “is important to the history of World War I and of Texas, as their experiences form an important, albeit neglected, part of the Texas military experience.”

Si Dunn

Treasure Hunter by W.C. Jameson – A memoir that’s a treasure itself – #nonfiction #bookreview

Treasure Hunter
By W.C. Jameson
(Seven Oaks Publishing, paperback, list price $14.95; Kindle, $2.99)

We’ve all had the great fantasy. We turn over a spade of dirt while doing some yard work and suddenly uncover Spanish doubloons or a rich cache of 19th-century silver dollars or some long-lost loot buried by a famous outlaw.

W.C. Jameson’s name is now virtually synonymous with “buried treasure.” Of his 70-plus published books, more than 20 of them are focused on treasure hunting, lost treasures and lost mines in the United States and North America.

Jameson’s huge and diverse literary output includes books of poetry, plus books on outlaws, cooking and even writing itself. Yet many of his fans think of him as a master treasure hunter first.

His newest book, Treasure Hunter, is a treasure in itself: an adventure-packed memoir that recounts and reflects upon his five-plus decades of expeditions – sometimes successful, sometimes disastrous – to find and recover long-lost gold and silver artifacts.

In treasure hunting, Jameson points out, if the rattlesnakes, rock slides and cave-ins don’t get you, state and federal laws and private landowners likely will, especially if you don’t keep stay completely quiet about what you are doing and what you have found.

Indeed, he stresses, “Anonymity is a great ally for a professional treasure hunter.”

So, before you quit your office job, cash in your 401(K), dress up like Indiana Jones, and head off for the mountains or desert, Jameson urges you to plant some harsh realities very firmly in mind:

“It is important to understand that almost everything treasure recovery professionals do is illegal,” he warns. “Thus, the bizarre and unreasonable laws related to treasure recovery have turned honest, dedicated, and hard-working fortune hunters into outlaws. Announcing a discovery often leads to negative and unwanted developments, primarily the loss of any treasure that may have been found. As mentors explained to me years ago, the fewer people involved, the better. Silence is the byword.” 

Throughout most of his fortune hunting career, Jameson has worked only with a small group of partners, none of them identified in this book, except with names such as “Poet” and “Slade” and “Stanley.”

At one point in Treasure Hunter, after a complicated expedition ends in disaster and near-death experiences, “Poet” sums up the “glamour” of their many quests:

“This little trip reminds me of most of our expeditions. Lots of action, nothing goes as planned, we get shot at, and we come back empty-handed.”

But Jameson has had some successes in his long and often arduous career: “From a few of these excursions, my partners and I acquired enough wealth to pay off houses and purchase new vehicles. With some of the money, I paid college tuition for myself as well as for my children.”

And, despite his long career and advancing age, he remains “on the hunt” for more treasures, he says.

Not surprisingly, Jameson identifies library research as one of the toughest and most essential parts of treasure hunting. And the lands around certain “lost” treasures may be accessible only after paying bribes, dealing with unsavory characters, surviving potentially fatal double-crosses, dodging deadly snakes and being willing to risk cross-border smuggling.

If that sounds like exciting “adventure” to you, pay close attention to Jameson’s additional cautions:   

“The truth is,” he writes, “adventure was never an objective, merely a byproduct. Anyone who has ever been on a quest will tell you that adventure happens when plans go awry. The great explorer Roald Amundson once said, ‘An adventure is merely  an interruption of an explorer’s serious work and indicates bad planning.’ Our plans often turned out badly, which may give you some idea of our collective ability to arrange and organize a perfect expedition, to prepare for any and all contingencies.”

For some readers, the many quests described in Jameson’s book likely will fuel or refuel a passion to go out anyway and search and dig for riches. But, for many others of us, some of the armchair adventurers of the world, his book will provide entertaining hours of safe reading, absorbing escapism and comfortable daydreaming.

And that will be treasure enough.

Si Dunn

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving – #bookreview #writing #screenwriting

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving
By Dan Fante
(Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback; $9.99, Kindle)

Italian-American novelist and screenwriter John Fante wanted his son Dan to become a plumber or electrician, not a writer or worse, an actor.

He had strong and bitter reasons behind that desire, as Dan Fante movingly notes in this dark and painful, yet ultimately uplifting and triumphant family memoir.

One of John Fante’s novels, Ask the Dust, had been published in 1939 with great expectations and is still respected as a classic look at life in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. Yet it was not a commercial success at the time, largely because the publisher, Stackpole Sons, could not afford to publicize it.

Weirdly, the publisher had “made the dumb and costly blunder of publishing Hitler’s Mein Kampf without the author’s permission,” Dan Fante writes. “The promo money that should have gone to publicize Ask the Dust was spent in New York City courtrooms fighting a protracted lawsuit with the Führer.”

So, to support his family, John Fante returned to writing Hollywood screenplays, including, nearly three decades later, Walk on the Wild Side, and “considered himself a failure as an artist.” His other outlets included too much drinking, too much golf and too much gambling, often in the company of novelist and short story writer William Saroyan, “a loose cannon,” particularly around dice games, Dan Fante notes.

Also: “Pop’s nasty mouth and rages were taking a toll on his life,” to the point that he sometimes punched out movie producers for whom he had been writing or rewriting scripts.

In his brief attempt at college, young Dan Fante had discovered that he was “a fairly decent actor.” But: “…John Fante had utter contempt for the profession, as he did for agents and TV writers and film directors and almost all movie people.” He’d tell his son: “You’re no genius, kid….Get yourself an honest career. Work with your hands.”

Much of the rest of this memoir focuses on Dan Fante’s strained relationship with his father and other family members and on Dan’s attempts to find himself after leaving home and hitchhiking to New York City, hoping to study theater.

Once there, he descends, instead, into a dark, urban hell relentlessly driven and wrecked – over and over again –by alcoholism, drugs, an often uncontrolled sex drive and numerous moments where he goes right up to the edge of committing suicide.

Dan Fante recounts how he tried many different schemes to survive, and some of them, such as working in the limousine business, briefly made him rich and brought him into the company of famous and powerful clients —  but only when he was able to sober up and stay focused.

Ultimately, he hits bottom too many times and finally can’t get up again. In the meantime, he loses his father and older brother to alcoholism, as well.

But he does, at least, reconcile with his father shortly before John Fante’s death: “We had become a loving father and son after a rocky thirty-year start. John Fante’s gift to me was his ambition, his brilliance, and his pure writer’s heart.”

At age 47, Dan Fante finally went home again in utter defeat, lugging three garbage bags “filled with all that I owned up the front walkway of my mom’s house.”

What happens next is a tough but inspiring true story of how a writer finally was able to find his voice, his focus, his legacy and his stability in life. It is a story rich with lessons and messages for almost anyone currently struggling to succeed as a novelist, screenwriter, writer of nonfiction or practitioner of virtually any other creative endeavor.

Si Dunn