Monday 9 November 2015 I’ll Be Seeing You

“Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star.” –   Oscar Hammerstein II

T&I got to campus & walked over to the to test center right away. She spent a ton of time grading & so did I. The grades were not that great. Our students just don’t seem to rise to the occasion and – as I pointed out to T – we’re @ the point in the semester where everyone is getting ready to turn the page.

So, I spent a ton of time in my office grading. But @ 11 a.m. I got to have lunch with “The T.” It was nice. We each had a huge bowl of yellow rice & black beans. We also had sweet apples, which we enjoyed b/c we were still hungry.

T&I made plans early in the day to head for Starbucks. We walked over right after lunch & got a couple of cups. It was nice, but did not do enough to revive me before class. I had little prep and enthusiasm as I went down the hall to the classroom.

479 was dead. I lectured for about 15 – 20 minutes, then gave them about the same amount of time to look @ their exams. The speaker was Andrea Saucer, a cousin of Olivia Johnson. She kept saying that she was nervous, but she did fine.

She told a story about how she was a student @ Auburn and she walked by one of those card tables that the credit card people had set up with free goodies (in this case, an Auburn T-shirt) if you got a credit card. She said that she got a card just to get the T-shirt. She had no intentions of using the card. But – by the time she left Auburn – she had maxed out three credit cards.

T&I talked a bit between classes, but then I had to go downstairs again. Surprisingly, 384 was better. We talked about systematic error & I used the example of measuring your height while standing in a chair – and got into a chair. Then I used the example of measuring your height while getting on your knees – and I got on my knees in front of the class. I was just trying to inject some life into the proceedings. Maybe I succeeded a little bit.


T had been jonesing about going for a walk all day long. She wanted to go as soon as I got home, so we did that. We saw L drive by us and T gave her a wave – then remarked that she was glad that we were not on our street. The walk was fun – it’s still cool, which I love. I could find no takers on getting E&C to walk down an “extra” streets.

I decided not to go to 1st & Ten – I needed time to decompress. There had been none of that after the weekend and I really missed it.

T did chicken n dumplings with a side salad for dinner. They were good – and very filling. I ate a second helping, but felt full after the first – guess I’m just a hawg.

After The Girls went down, I netted before bed. I looked @ some of the Wonderland stuff and at some of the stuff about Frank Christi.


During the a.m., I reported the Canned Heat transaction to the card firm. The card has put the credit back on my card, pending a response from CH. If the card gets a response, it will be the first one anyone has received from that bunch. It’s sort of a letdown. OK – it’s a big letdown.


I got interested in some of the stuff that Chuck Negron’s wife wrote about the kids of musicians being addicts. I found a reference for Dr. John’s daughter, Jessica Rebennack. It said that she lived from 1973-2003. On, the inscription on her grave reads,

I’ll find you in the morning sun / And when the night is new / I’ll be looking @ the moon / But I’ll be seeing you. 

Those are lyrics from the song  “I’ll be seeing  you.” From the script on her grave, it appears that Jessica may have been Jewish.

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Friday 6 November 2015 Everybody Loves a Parade

It was Friday, so The Girls’ nap mats came home with them. The back seat of the car was jammed with “stuff.” Ms. L – E’s teacher – put both girls into the back seat. Ms. L wished us a happy weekend – I’m sure that Ms. L needs one after working with small children all week long. It took a long time to get everyone and everything in the house when we got home.

Once we managed to get into the house, C got out her Halloween candy for a snack. Unsurprisingly, I had to call “time” on C’s access to the candy. E wanted to run up to the bonus room and watch Frozen. I told her that we might do it later. E gracefully accepted it and went to the bonus room to read.

We had 2+ hours until we had to go meet T. C asked me to read a couple of books to her. Both were birthday gifts from P&N. One was Maggie McNair Wears Stinky Underwear by Sheila Booth-Alberstadt. The other was Purplicious by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann.

Just after 5 p.m., we left to go meet T. We had an ipad and I let the girls watch and listen to the songs from (wait for it) Frozen in the office. E BELTED out the songs. Fortunately, almost everyone had left the office for the weekend. T’s work ended and she came up to meet us @ the office. The Girls liked the videos so much that we had to tear them away to get them to the parade.


There was a parade on the campus where T&I work. It was a lot of fun. We brought four lawn chairs, but C said that she preferred to sit on T’s lap. The parade has marching bands and all sorts of floats with people throwing candy, beads, and toys. The Girls got a ton of stuff. We saw some people we know, and they marvelled @ how much The Girls have grown.

My favorite float was a vintage 1980s DeLorean car. The guy driving the car had dressed as Doc from Back to the Future. (In the movie, Doc’s DeLorean is a time machine). The driver had also opened the car’s “gull-wing” doors, as he drove in the parade.


We took the kids to a chicken place for dinner. We knew that it was going to be a “heavy lift,” but we had to do something for dinner. The kids were gone and neither ate much. At least we have leftover chicken for Saturday.

C was loud and we kept telling her that she was disturbing the other diners. Eventually, C lost her story for the evening for pulling the hem of her dress over her head and refusing to put it down again.

E was a bit better, but still challenging. She swiveled around on the semi-circular banquette, got under the table, and generally couldn’t sit still. We were happy to make a break for the car. The restaurant’s manager kept coming over to see if we needed anything – I’m sure he wasn’t sorry to see us go.

Since T had to work late, we had both cars @ the restaurant. C wanted to ride home with T, so I took E home in the other car.


At work, T talked to a colleague who has three kids in a private school (not the school that E&C attend). The woman said that they pay $36,000 per year for the three kids and that they have to make monthly payments because of the high expense. However, she said that her kids’ school is less intrusive on the fundraising. Win some, lose some…

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Book Review: Of Goats and Governors by Steve Flowers

  • Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories
  • by Steve Flowers
  • Publisher – New South Books
  • Copyright 2015
  • 263 pages

Rating – 7/10

Review – From boyhood, Steve Flowers wanted to be a politician. He served as a page in Alabama’s legislature, attended Youth Legislature, and got involved in student politics at the University of Alabama. At age 30, he was elected to the first of four terms in Alabama’s legislature. Since he chose to leave office, Flowers has become a “talking head,” a political commentator on Alabama politics in a variety of media – television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet.

As an avid spectator of Alabama politics, I was excited when I read on Flowers’ website that he was writing a book of Alabama political stories. The book took a while to appear in print, but – after its publication – I immediately asked my wife to buy a copy for me as a birthday gift.

In the Arena – An Inside Look

When Flowers discusses his political experiences, Of Goats is terrific. When Flowers was a boy, he caught the eye of his local representative, Gardner Bassett. Bassett took Flowers under his wing, bringing Flowers to Montgomery so that Flowers could see the legislature up close. Bassett also introduced Flowers to Governor George Wallace, telling Wallace that Flowers would eventually take Bassett’s place in the Alabama House of Representatives. And indeed, when Bassett retired roughly 20 years later, that is precisely what happened.

For political junkies, the “inside” stuff in Of Goats is like catnip to a cat. Another nice section concerns Flowers’ first term as a legislator (1983-1987) when George Wallace was in his last term as governor. Wallace and Flowers were particularly close because they had known each other for 20 years (since Flowers had been a page). Moreover, Flowers represented Wallace’s home county (Barbour), which allowed Flowers to benefit when Wallace sent loads of pork back home.

Flowers recounts how Wallace liked to call legislators into his office and “work on” them. Of Goats describes Wallace as the consummate politician, using his failing hearing to control these meetings by forcing legislators to repeat themselves. Wallace could also flatter; Flowers says that at one point he was eating dinner at the governors mansion more often than he ate at home.

Lesser Knowns

Some of the best stories concern lower-profile figures. One is William “Shorty” Price, a perennial political candidate and rabid University of Alabama football fan. Flowers and Shorty both hailed from Barbour County and both loved politics, so it’s no surprise that they knew each other. In Of Goats, Flowers recounts the time that he ran into Shorty at an Alabama football game –

I was a freshman at the university. Shorty even in his drunken daze recognized me. I had a beautiful date whom I was trying to impress, and meeting Shorty did not impress her. He pranced up the aisle and sat by me. Shorty might not have bathed in two months. His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose. After about 20 minutes offending my date, Shorty then tried to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion Field. He did at least three, mashing his head straight down on the pavement. On each dive, I thought Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely and he was developing a black eye. The alcohol must have saved Shorty that day. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with Alabama cheerleaders, as bloody as he may have been (p. 241).

The “Shorty” section is only 2-3 pages long, and short vignettes are the norm in Of Goats. The short sections make it easy to pick up and put down and keep the book from “bogging down.”

Pulled Punches – Weaknesses

Fans of politics – particularly Alabama politics – will enjoy Of Goats and Governors. But it would be Clinton-esque (or Nixonian, if you prefer) for me to give this book unqualified praise. Unsurprisingly, Of Goats suffers from one of the most-common shortcomings of politicians’ memoirs – there are a lot of pulled punches. Flowers flatters almost all of the politicians whom he discusses, particularly those who are still in office. I came away with the sense that he may have left some of his best stories untold.

A bigger problem is that too much material is “old hat.” For instance, he discusses the Nixon administration’s attempts to defeat George Wallace in the 1970 gubernatorial race. (Nixon hoped Wallace would lose so that Wallace would not be a factor in the 1972 presidential election). This is an oft-told story and Flowers has nothing new to say about it; in fact, most of his coverage is quoted from old books by two other Alabama political figures – Bob Ingram and Oscar Harper.

Some of the other material is little better. For example, in separate sections, Flowers details the political careers and hometowns of Alabama’s recent governors. He provides some analysis, but these sections are dull. Anyone with an Internet connection could have found this information and Flowers adds little beyond the basics.

Final Returns

Flowers doesn’t always seem to recognize that his story is the best tale that he has to tell. A co-author might have helped make Of Goats even better. Still, this is a good, solid book and those who like Alabama politics will enjoy it. I close by noting that I enjoyed reading Of Goats  – which is the highest praise that I can give any book.

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Book Review – Prime Green by Robert Stone

  • Prime Green – Remembering The Sixties
  • by Robert Stone
  • Publisher – ecco
  • Copyright – 2007
  • 229 pages

Rating – 6/10

Review – About fifteen years ago, I read Robert Stone’s 1974 novel Dog Soldiers. It is a rarity – a successful attempt at a “big book” that captures the zeitgeist. In Dog Soldiers Stone conveys the disillusionment and rootlessness in the U.S. after our failure in the Vietnam War. More surprisingly, Dog Soldiers also succeeds in telling an entertaining story – about an ill-fated attempt to smuggle drugs from Vietnam to the U.S.

From Brooklyn to Stanford

Stone – who was born in 1937 – was a bit older than most of the sixties hipsters. Moreover, he was not the typical, upper-middle class dropout. Instead, he was raised under difficult circumstances in Brooklyn. Eventually, he quit high school and joined the U.S. Navy. The 1950s sections are some of Prime Green’s best material. Stone had some nice adventures while traveling the world in the Navy.

Eventually, the scene shifts back to the U.S. Stone spends time in New York and New Orleans, drifting from job to job and working on the novel that became 1966’s A Hall of Mirrors.  Though Stone had no academic credentials, he eventually won a writing fellowship to Stanford University. At Stanford, he became associated with Ken Kesey and many of the 1960s “big names.”

An Oft-Told Tale

Strangely, the closer Stone moves to the heart of the counterculture, the less Prime Green interests the reader. So many writers have dissected the sixties. So many aging hippies have recounted their youthful misadventures. Finding a fresh perspective on those years is difficult, and Stone – for the most part – doesn’t do so.

I don’t want to be too negative. Prime Green has some nice stories:

  • In 1964 Stone journeyed across the U.S. on a Grayhound Bus. Due to his beatnik apperance, a group of U.S. Navy sailors terrorized Stone, who took a severe beating in Highspire, Pennsylvania. (Stone points out the irony – he had been a Navy sailor). This scene is perhaps the best in the book – tense and dramatic.
  • A bit later, Stone worked for a tabloid in New York City. He interjects humor into Prime Green by describing the fabricated stories that he wrote. (Among the headlines were “Armless Veteran Beaten for Not Saluting Flag” and “Skydiver Devoured by Starving Birds”). Unfortunately, Stone lessens the section’s impact by not naming the publication and by using pseudonyms for his coworkers.
  • During the early 1970s, Stone went to Vietnam. Once there, he saw the Nixon administration’s attempt to turn the war over to South Vietnamese while withdrawing U.S. troops. Stone describes the imploding U.S. war effort and the mushrooming drug culture. The reader gets a good idea of Stone’s source material for Dog Soldiers.

What’s Prime Green?

The title of the book was a mystery as I read. Eventually, Stone reveals its source when recounting his time in Mexico with Ken Kesey. At the time, Kesey was “on the lam” from a California drug charge. Stone’s explanation encapsulates his take on the 1960s:

What I will never forget is the greening of the day at first light on the shores north of Manzanillo Bay. I imagine that color so vividly that I know, by ontology, that I must have seen it. In the moments after dawn, before the sun had reached the peaks of the sierra, the slopes and valleys of the rain forest would explode in green light, erupting inside a silence that seemed barely to contain it. When the sun’s rays spilled over the ridge, they discovered dozens of silvery waterspouts and dissolved them into smoky rainbows. Then the silence would give way, and the jungle rose to blue heaven. Those mornings, day after day, made nonsense of examined life, but they made everyone smile. All of us, stoned or otherwise, caught in the vortex of dawn, would freeze in our tracks and stand to, squinting in the pain of the light, sweating, grinning. We called that light Prime Green; it was primal, primary, primo (p. 153).

Moving On

There’s really nothing wrong with Prime Green. Stone was a talented writer who was at the heart of the 1960s counterculture. Prime Green never bores the reader, but it never “catches fire,” either.  The book simply isn’t a “must read.” So much has been written about the sixties that the bar is pretty high for counterculture memoirs. If you’re looking to read something about the decade, you can do much better. For those with an interest in Stone’s work, Dog Soldiers is a much better place to start.

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Book Review – How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing
• by Paul Silvia
• Publisher – American Psychological Association
• Copyright – 2007.
• 132 pages

Rating – 8.5/10

Review – My wife and I are both academics. Early in adult life, both of us focused on earning our academic credentials and starting our careers. Then we had kids. Our first daughter arrived in 2009 and the second was born 13 months later. Life changed – a lot. Pre-kids, we never had any trouble finding time to pursue our research agendas; post-kids, it’s been “a whole ‘nother story.”

Way back in 2009, we attended a scholarly conference & Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot caught my wife’s eye.  She bought a copy, read it, and became an instant fan. A few months later, daughter #1 arrived. With the start of fall classes this year, we both resolved to rejoin the scholarly race. I decided that reading Silvia’s little book would help keep me on track.

Short, with Much Wisdom

By Silvia’s admission, the point of his book is very simple. He advises scholars who want to be productive to set a writing schedule – and stick to it. Silvia states that – the title notwithstanding – one does not have to “write a lot.” Rather, he says that you should regard writing time as an “appointment with yourself” to do your research. He points out that – after all – scholars don’t miss our classes due to other commitments; he suggests that we apply the same committed mindset to our research.

The crucial portions of the book deal with the need to set goals and keep track of one’s progress toward them. (Silvia backs his position by citing the relevant psychology literature). Silvia uses an SPSS (spreadsheet) file to keep track of his daily progress. My wife and have both made our own files (using Excel) and they have helped keep us on track during the inevitable rough patches in our research.

Style to Spare

Silvia is an engaging writer. One way that he maintains interest is by giving readers glimpses into his writing life. Silvia states that each weekday he gets up, flips on the coffee pot, and works from 8 to 10 a.m. on his research. That’s it – he doesn’t work on the weekends or at other times. The reader can picture Silvia working away, based on the book’s descriptions of his Spartan writing area that is covered in coffee stains.

How to Write a Lot is that rare academic book that one wants to read. Silvia has a great sense of pacing and doesn’t allow things to bog down. Consider the following passages –

  • On a scholar’s place in the writing world – “Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement” (p. 45).
  • On the mindset that scholars should have regarding rejections – “To write a lot, you should rethink your mental models of rejection and publication. Rejections are like a sale tax on publications: The more papers you publish, the more rejections you will receive. Following the tips in this book will make you the most rejected person in your department” (pp. 100-101).

A Big Can of Worms – Disappointments

While I really enjoyed this book, I had a few frustrations with it. How to Write a Lot’s strength is its brevity. But that can also work against it. Chapter 5 – titled “A Brief Foray Into Style” – is simply too brief to provide much value. Style is crucial, but becoming a stylish writer is a book (or a series of books). No one – Silvia included – can begin to do it justice in a chapter. (Fortunately, Silvia provides a fantastic bibliography that will help readers who want to explore the issues raised in the book in more depth).

I didn’t get much from Chapter 4, either. That material concerns starting a writing group to help encourage you to stay on pace with your research. There’s nothing wrong with this material – it’s just not the way that I work. However, other readers might have entirely different reactions.

Silvia is pictured below.

Summary – So Far, So Good

In research – as in politics – it’s always dangerous to read too much into “early returns.” But after six weeks of constant work, my wife and I are both enjoying our newfound research productivity. We would recommend How to Write a Lot to any scholar seeking to improve his or her research output.

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Book Review – Wallace by Marshall Frady

• Wallace: The Classic Portrait of Alabama Governor George Wallace
• by Marshall Frady
• Publisher – Random House
• Copyright – 1996 (The original edition appeared in 1968).
• 304 pages

Rating – 8.5/10

Review – For better and (mostly) for worse, no figure in Alabama politics looms larger than George Wallace. From his first unsuccessful 1958 gubernatorial run, Wallace dominated state politics until ill health forced his retirement in January 1987.  During that time, Alabama progressed but remained at or near the bottom in comparisons of the 50 U.S. states. (This helped create the old joke that Alabama’s motto should be, “Thank God for Mississippi”).

But state governance has little to do with the continuing interest in Wallace. Instead, it is his four runs for the U.S. presidency from 1964 to 1976 that make him a political player worth remembering. By becoming a factor in those races, Wallace shocked the pundits and sent a clear signal that conservatism was on the rise.

In Wallace, journalist Marshall Frady uses his extraordinary access to Wallace to craft an intimate portrait of a man whose political ambitions controlled every aspect of his life. Frady openly states that Wallace is Robert Penn Warren’s Willie Stark come to life. More precisely, Frady’s Wallace is pure demagogue, a man who forms his stands on the issues soley for political expediency.


Frady’s timing was perfect. By the mid-60s, it had become apparent that Wallace was a force. At the time of Wallace’s original publication, Wallace had convinced Alabama’s voters to make his wife, Lurleen, the governor in 1966. (At the time, Alabama governors were not allowed to serve consecutive terms, so George was ineligible to run). Also, Wallace was gearing up for his 1968 run for president, which would confirm his mass appeal. In short, Frady catches Wallace at the height of his political powers, just as his wave was starting to crest.

But the strongest aspect of the book is Frady’s prose. The “new journalism” of participant observation was just coming into vogue in the mid-60s. I’ve always thought that this was a feast-or-famine technique – it’s great if the writer has the chops to pull it off, but it’s miserable if the writer is mediocre or worse.  Fortunately, Frady meets the challenge. He captures the elusive Wallace out on the stump, interacting with voters, the press, and fellow politicians. Frady, a Southerner, also has a great feel for Alabama and its people.

I once read some advice from the famed writing instructor John Gardner. He said that great, insightful writing makes the reader say to him- or herself, “Yes, that’s the way it is.” I had that feeling reading Frady.

Finally, and this may be Wallace’s most-important quality, it’s a book that you want to read, a page turner. I checked it out from my local library late on a Saturday morning and was done by Sunday night.


While I enjoyed Wallace, the book isn’t perfect. One irritant is that Frady often repeats details. I tired of descriptions of Wallace’s cheap suit, oily hair, smelly cigars, and butchered pronunciations of the same words. (Over 300 pages, Frady’s decision to spell Wallace’s dialogue phonetically is like a toothache that gets worse with time. This device would have been more effective had Frady confined these spellings to an introduction or a conclusion).

I was also let down by Frady’s follow up to the original 1968 edition. At the end of the original book, Wallace is just “feeling his oats” as a potential national figure, considering his possibilities as a candidate for 1968 and beyond. The story of the 1968 election and what came after it have much potential. But Frady swings and misses on this opportunity. His postscript seems tacked on and other authors have offered more insight on this phase of Wallace’s career. Twenty-twenty hindsight says that it was Frady’s access to Wallace that made the original book special; without that intimate perspective, his follow up is flat.


With the exception of four years “abroad” in other U.S. states, I’ve lived in Alabama since 1977. It requires no great insight to say that the damage that Wallace caused to Alabama continues to this day. Prior to reading Frady’s Wallace, I had already enjoyed several books on “The Governor”:

  • Stephen Lesher’s George Wallace: American Populist,
  • Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage,
  • Jeff Frederick’s Stand Up for Alabama,
  • Michael Dorman’s The Wallace Myth,
  • And several others.

Frady’s book is the best of the bunch. The vivid portrait of the public and private Wallace, Alabama and its people, and a lost point in time make this the place to start.

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Book Review: Be Cool by Elmore Leonard

• Be Cool
• by Elmore Leonard
• Publisher – Dark Alley
• Copyright – 1999
• 275 pages

Rating – 5.5/10

Review – Elmore Leonard “sends up” the entertainment industry again in Be Cool. In the finest Hollywood tradition, Be Cool is a sequel to Leonard’s successful novel, Get Shorty. As with Get Shorty, Hollywood adapted Be Cool into a movie (in 2005).

The Return of Chili

Even if the book didn’t have a blurb on the back cover, fans would recognize that Be Cool was a sequel right away. Once again, the spotlight is on Leonard’s Miami-loan-shark-turned-Hollywood-insider Chili Palmer. For those who missed Get Shorty, Chili is a “stock” Leonard character – an ever-cool, hustler with a gift of gab. At the beginning of Be Cool, Chili’s star has risen and fallen in Hollywood as his latest film flopped.

In Be Cool circumstance thrusts Chili into the music industry, which – if anything – proves to be even shallower and meaner than was the film industry. Chili falls in with a band of wanna-be rock stars named Odessa and tries to help their career. At the same time, he’s dodging some violent, low-life criminals who are tracking him with some bad intentions.

Pretty Good Leonard

There’s nothing wrong with Be Cool, but there’s nothing great about it, either. It’s fine piece of fluff, easy reading about not-too-bright characters playing for high stakes. Be Cool would make some nice, lightweight beach reading if you wanted simple escapism.

But Leonard has written much-better books. While Be Cool has some of Leonard’s trademark, snappy dialogue, there aren’t many great lines or passages. Those who read Get Shorty have already experienced Chili’s cool-guy rap, so his lines in Be Cool just don’t have the same punch. (Chili’s love interest, Elaine, has some witty, tongue-in-cheek lines: “Tell you the truth… I’m smoking more now since I quit” p. 232).

The plot is only mediocre. Leonard’s characters have always seemed more interesting than his plots, and Be Cool doesn’t make the reader care about what happens. Be Cool also suffers from one of Leonard’s persistent weakness – the tendency to shift abruptly from laid-back, semi-comedic storylines to graphic violence. The effect is jarring and – while I like Leonard’s writing – he has a cavalier disregard for horrible, violent death. For instance, in Be Cool one character begins wearing a little black dress as an ironic statement after her husband is murdered by a hit man who shot him in the head outside a restaurant.

A final quibble is that Be Cool seems like, slick “Hollywood” version of Leonard. One touch that I particularly disliked was Leonard plotting to his characters “hang out” with real-life celebrities (such as Aerosmith). It reminded me of TV’s The Simpsons continually using celebrity guest stars to inject life into the show. Also, over the years, many of Leonard’s characters became increasingly cartoonish. For instance, Be Cool features a gay, 6-foot-5, part-Samoan, part-African American killer and aspiring entertainer. You get the idea.

Whatever Leonard’s motives, Be Cool is a far cry from Leonard’s gritty tales of low-life nobodies stuck in dead-end cities. (For some terrific Leonard, try 1976’s Swag, which is set in Detroit).


Be Cool is a fine, lightweight novel. While it doesn’t have any fatal flaws, it’s well below Leonard’s best and that keeps me from giving it more than a lukewarm review.

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