Tuesday, March 29, 2011

At Day's Close: Night in Times Past

By A. Roger Ekirch

This book takes a look at how people lived in the days before the invention of modern lighting. How did they spend their evenings, once it got too dark to work? How did they spend their nights?
Turns out they spent their nights a lot like we do. Most people didn't go to bed and get up with the sun. They were out and about, visiting, working, getting up to no good. They just had to do it in a lot darker conditions than most folks nowadays.
For some, nighttime was the only time when the conventions and restrictions of their daytime lives were lifted. At night, you could do in darkness what you feared to be seen in the light. Sexual adventures, gambling, drinking, general rowdiness, and crime all thrived under cover of darkness. Crime especially seemed to know no bounds after nightfall. Housebreaking, robberies, muggings, hijackings, prostitution all benefited from cover of darkness.
Yet, even though life was riskier after dark, people still got out and about, visiting, working, socializing, even travelling in the darkness. In many ways, it all sounds familiar, if a lot harder and more dangerous given the lack of light.
As he brings his book to a close, the author describes something that he says has changed a lot because of modern lighting and that is our actual sleep habits. According to the author, people used to practice what they called first sleep and second sleep. First sleep lasts about fours hours or so at which point the sleeper awakes and stays awake for up to an hour or two and then goes back to sleep until morning. This interval between sleeps was a time for thinking over the day or for contemplation, for prayer, for quiet conversation with a bedmate or even for sex. The author feels our modern lives are the poorer for losing this quiet awake time in the middle of the night. I personally think he is wrong about that. I don't think most people sleep straight through the night. They would probably like to but don't. I know I don't. It is a rare thing for me not to wake up after about four hours sleep. I get up, let the dog out, use the toilet, get a drink of water, get the dog back in and head back to bed. True, I don't spend any time thinking about the day or contemplating my existence; I just want to get back to sleep. Maybe what has changed is not that people have stopped waking up in the middle of the night, but that our expectation is that our sleep should be uninterrupted and so we are less accepting of being awake then.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Girl Watcher

By James Lawson

Arleigh Eliot is a middle-aged executive in New York City who is at a point in his life where his main preoccupation is sex. He visits massage parlors, peep shows, strip joints, makes obscene phone calls and is a window peeper. One day a beautiful young woman caught his eye. She seemed to him to be the epitome of young, desirable womanhood. So he began to stalk her. He became so obsessed that he even left his wife and moved into an apartment across the way from the woman's so that he could spy on her.
Eventually his attraction to this young woman led him to make contact with her and to his surprise, she was attracted to him also. They get together and Arleigh finds that he isn't as deliriously happy as he thought he would be, that a fantasy girl friend may be better than the real deal.

Arleigh is a guy who makes no bones about his own desires and selfishness. Although at the end of the novel he admits that some day it may all catch up to him, he really doesn't seem to care. He does what he wants in his personal and professional life. He is a creep. But as despicable as Arleigh is, still his frankness and openness are refreshing and amusing and entertaining. Arleigh is a scoundrel, but he is a lot of fun to read about and an unforgettable character.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Glory Lane

By Alan Dean Foster

Seeth is a young punk who, with his brother Kerwin, who's a bit of a nerd, see something strange at a bowling lane: a bowling ball with a mind of its own and a bowler who has seven fingers. But before they can get a closer look, two thugs show up and start dragging the seven-fingered bowler and his ball away. Seeth, being a kind of anti-establishment sort of person, steps in to challenge the two thugs and in the ensuing hassle, he and his brother and the stranger manage to escape. But not for long, because the two thugs come after them, shooting not guns but some kind of beam weapon. And as their new friend, Rail, explains, the thugs will not be satisfied with anything less than all their deaths. So all three of them, and the bowling ball, and a air-headed young woman who gets dragged into it all also, have to leave Earth and flee in Rail's spacecraft to seek refuge from the relentless thugs who are after one thing: the bowling ball.

This book tries real hard to be funny but it just isn't. Mostly it is dull. Seeth is a creep, his brother is a zero and the young woman, Miranda, is just a parody of a woman, constantly obsessed with shopping. The whole universe is after the bowling ball, and lots of aliens pop in and out of the story, but even the aliens miss the mark too. About the only thing that was engaging in the story was the puzzle of the bowling ball. It was the only thing that kept my interest and I found the solution of the bowling ball satisfying and surprising. So for the sake of the bowling ball part of the story, I think this book gets a fair rating.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


By Laurence Shames

Vincente Delgatto is an old man. He should be retired but he isn't. He is the Godfather. And he is in Florida to visit his son, Joey Goldman. He has two sons, Joey in Florida and Gino Delgatto in New York. Joey is not involved in his father's business but Gino is. Joey is smart and Gino, not so much.
As an elderly man, Vincente is looking back at his life and feeling a heaviness about some of things he has done. He is thinking maybe if he had someone to talk to about it, it would help him feel better. So he gets together with a friend of his son Joey's, a newspaper man named Arty. Toghether they are writing the Godfather's memoir.
Gino is also down in Florida, trying to arrange a deal without his father's knowledge but the deal goes sour. In order to save his own life, he reveals that his father is writing a memoir. To prove himself, Gino is told to kill Arty, to stop the memoir from being written.
Also interested in the memoir is the FBI. They want it, badly. So badly that they try to squeeze Arty into giving it to them. Poor Arty is getting it from both directions. But not to worry, he has the Godfather on his side.

This is a story about gangsters. It is also a story about an old man who loves his sons and who just happens to be the Godfather. It's a story about how the choices people make twist their lives. It's about regret and love and compassion and duty. And about friendship, old friends and new friends, old loyalties and new ones. The gangster stuff is pretty routine, but Vincente's personal life, his connection with his family, his old friend, Bert the Shirt and his new friend, Arty, that makes this story surprisingly warm, sweet and touching. I enjoyed it.