<![CDATA[ - BLOG]]>Wed, 28 Feb 2018 14:04:19 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Flash Book Reviews]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 03:38:26 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/flash-book-reviewsAUTUMN   Ali Smith
All novels are dreams, but this one reads like one. We’re given rich glimpses into these characters’ deep interior lives, the most touching being the friendship between an older man in the autumn of his years, and a girl, then woman, who forms a deep bond with him. Some of the passages are surreal, as in a dream, but always compelling. There’s wisdom in these pages.
Himmelman had Bradlee’s full cooperation while writing this book. In fact, Bradlee instructed Himmelman to follow any leads, however unflattering. The result is a touching tribute to an old-fashioned, hard-nosed newspaper editor, who put country and first amendment freedoms ahead of personal concerns. Usually. He did have a soft spot for his buddy, JFK, which may have skewed a story or two in the president’s favor. Given today’s news, this biography is especially relevant.
McNair is a Chicago gal: fearless, funny, honest, street smart—and one hell of a writer. These consistently engaging essays range from universal themes, such as sex and death, to coffee and booze and shopping. And the essays are inhabited by larger than life characters, not the least of whom are McNair’s own mom and dad. This is a touching, wise, and heartfelt collection. This will be one of those books I return to often.
The author, Murr, was born and raised in London, but attended Stanford and worked as a writer-in-residence at the University of Missouri, and now resides in Chicago. The only reason I mention all this is because this fine novel takes us from London to Missouri, spanning many years, and centers on a boy displaced from India and “adopted” by a small town writer, who becomes a sort of mother to the boy. This novel, painted with a broad brush, reads like a saga, full of keen insights and lovely writing.
Barnes is one of my favorite novelists, but this time, he offers to the world a sort of memoir, not so much about his life, but about death, his and his mother’s and father’s…and the terror of death. This book is not for the faint of heart. But Barnes is precise and wonderfully offbeat with his musings, his British sensibility on full display, which make this book well worth reading.
Thomas is a Harvard professor. Once in a while, you forget that because he’s such a fan. But mostly you don’t. Which is fine. He offers a scholarly analysis of how Dylan uses Roman literature and folk music and blues to inform his own work. Thomas calls this “intertexuality.” Dylan’s “borrowing” often seems pretty specific. Apparently, the reason this is never plagiarism is because Dylan borrows so well that he makes the sources into something new, into something he owns. Which is fascinating. When others try to build on Dylan, however, Dylan doesn’t take too kindly to this. You’ll have to read this for yourself to see who you side with. I do wish Thomas would be more objective at times, as he often fawns over Dylan’s genius.
There are hundreds and hundreds of books I have never read, that I feel I should read, and this is one of them. I’m not very far into this Russian classic—Anna is just arriving by train—but it is charming. Even though the characters are mainly of the nobility, they suffer the same anguish and insecurities as the rest of us. I’m not quite sure what “beach read” entails, but this seems like a good, breezy, summer book that has been keeping me warm during these cold and snowy February days.
<![CDATA[Review of My New Book]]>Tue, 06 Feb 2018 02:47:17 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/review-of-my-new-book
Just got this lovely review: REVIEW.
<![CDATA[Book Launch January 18]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 02:39:09 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/book-launch-january-18If you happen to be in the Palatine area on Thursday, January 18th, feel free to stop by for a book launch celebration at Fremd High School, 1000 S Quentin, Palatine IL.  7 pm.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
<![CDATA[Space vs. Water]]>Sat, 06 Jan 2018 02:51:19 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/space-vs-water​When I spend twelve bucks to see a movie, I root for the movie to be great. Which ain’t always easy, especially when there are factors that take me out of the movie, which range from people in the theater talking (which I will never understand, which defeats the goal of becoming immersed in the damn movie), to implausible plot turns or poor acting, usually the result of poor directing. Even then, I try to suppress my analytical side and let these intrusions pass. Determining whether a movie is great or not often doesn’t go much deeper than that: did the movie grip me from beginning to end?
​For the newest Star Wars installment, I was able to push aside any pressing concerns in my own life and immerse myself in the spectacle of sound and special effects, the former especially impressive. If there was any whispering around me, I didn’t hear it. The story this time is solid, the acting often remarkable. Mark Hamill has aged well. His weary eyes and gaunt face serve him well. Adrian Driver is mesmerizing as always. And while Carrie Fisher isn’t given much to do, her presence is haunting and resonant.
So were there any "intrusions"? Well, a few. Not enough to spoil the movie—I did enjoy it quite a bit—but the enjoyment was briefly interrupted. 1. I wondered about fiery explosions in space. Perhaps this is possible, but it seems as if something would be altered out there, some muffling of sound. As is, the explosions in space seem pretty much how they might happen on earth. 2. Yoda. He may have been an effective character back in the seventies, but his voice and presence wear pretty thin here. And with all his powers, why hasn’t he mastered syntax by now? 3. One of the leaders of a ship keeps her escape plan secret, for no good reason other than to complicate the plot. I did a good job of suppressing this one--because I only vaguely recalled my objection until after the movie, when my daughter brought this up. You see, I was rooting so much that my analytical side was quashed in seconds.
While I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t think about it much afterward. Maybe that’s another criteria for determining the worth of a movie: how long the story stays with you. Here’s an odd question. If the movie didn’t stay with me, how did I even realize that the movie had “left” me? Mainly because a few days ago I saw The Shape of Water, and I’m still thinking about it.
This is a strange and wonderful movie, set in 1962 Baltimore. The only reason I can be that specific is I looked it up. I would have guessed the fifties, or at times the forties, given the luxurious sets and gorgeous lighting. In other words, the movie, while grounded in an American past, is timeless. It’s a fairytale, a social commentary on race and justice and otherness.
I refuse to offer any particulars about this movie. I hope you see it without a glimpse at a single preview. It is rich and engaging and troubling and joyful. You’ve seen many of the actors elsewhere, even if you can’t name them, and their storylines are fleshed out pretty well. Their characters have contour, shape. Throughout, you feel as if you’re in able hands with director Guillermo del Toro. Not a single intrusion here.
<![CDATA[New Book]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:33:51 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/new-book1946535I'm excited to announce the publication of a new novel. Official release date is December 12, but you can preorder a copy very soon, maybe by the time you read this. For details about the book, click on "Reviews." To order click on "Books."
<![CDATA[Three Biographical Portraits]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 16:37:09 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/three-biographical-portraits
Several years ago, we booked Ray Manzarek of The Doors to visit our campus, but he cancelled. I don’t recall the reason. But I do recall the disappointment. I put aside his book that I had planned to read in preparation for his visit. I told myself, Ah, it’s probably just juicy gossip anyway. I don’t need to fill my head with that. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I snatched the book off my shelf the other day and devoured it.
Manzarek is a Chicago guy through and through. Which may explain how he kept his head amid the madness of The Doors between 1965-1971. Not that we Midwestern folks can’t go off the rails, but I’d like to think we have a greater capacity for…stability? Balance? I’m clearly biased. And I don’t want to get into a defense of that bias. Here’s why I mention it at all. As I was reading about Jim Morrison’s downfall, caused mostly by his own self-destruction, but also by outside forces feeding on him and handcuffing him, literally in a couple of cases, I couldn’t help thinking, Oh, but Manzarek will survive. He’s rooted. And he is. His authority, his ability to fuse the personal with the historical with the psychedelic is remarkable. The writing is crisp and hip and resonant of the sixties. Even the redundant use of Dionysian and Apollo and the word fecund mirrors the hypnotic pull of the music of The Doors. The other great thing about this book is that it will send you back to the music, to the songs beyond the hits. You will become newly entranced.

Jonathan Eig is another Chicago guy, who has written about Capone and the pill and Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, all penetrating portraits. This time Eig tackles Muhammad Ali. When Ali died recently, I was moved by the public grief and the overwhelming tributes. All I knew about Ali was the image he worked to project. What I didn’t realize is that this image-making began well before he became a public figure. Even as a child, he worked to make an impression. He was more than Cassius Clay. I can’t help think of real clay, how it becomes shaped by time and hands. This is a fascinating glimpse into Clay’s obsessive need to shape what he presented to the world, and how he shaped his own views on race and religion and society, how he became Muhammad Ali.
No matter how many times I read about the injustice blacks faced in decades past, not to mention the present, I’m always taken aback by stories of how a World Boxing Champion could not eat or shop at the same restaurants as other citizens of this country, simply because of the color of his skin. This book provides broad historical perspective on the racial divide, but also offers smart glimpses into the personal reactions to this injustice.

Not long ago, I had never heard of Leonard Cohen. I’d heard the song “Hallelujah,” usually covered by some other artist. Then I saw footage of Cohen at a concert, with black jacket and tie and his trademark fedora. I heard the raspy delivery. I wasn’t sure I liked the voice. It seemed he was speaking more than singing. Slowly, I became more and more drawn to him, which is what his music does. The sound, the rhythm pull you in. The music reassures. I don’t listen carefully to lyrics on first or second listenings. It’s like my brain needs to acclimate. The content of the lyrics, as I soon discovered, are often less soothing, though still hypnotic and moving. It’s no surprise that Cohen published several volumes of award winning poetry. The songs are poems. I’ve become more obsessed with Cohen’s music after reading Sylvie Simmons’s excellent biography of Cohen. That guy lived a full life, from a rich childhood in Canada to an artist’s isolation (mostly) in Greece to a monk’s isolation (really) in California. Simmons ably chronicles it all. The book made me sad to have discovered Cohen so late, but it’s a glimmering kind of sadness. This fine book, written a few years before Cohen’s death, and with his cooperation, is a poignant celebration.
<![CDATA[Note from Miller Williams]]>Sun, 13 Aug 2017 18:35:29 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/note-from-miller-williamsI was poring through some old school files and came across this touching little note from poet Miller Williams. I had my students write poems using Miller-like titles, which could often be lengthy. Here are some of his actual titles:
"One of Those Rare Occurrences on a City Bus"; "My Wife Reads the Paper at Breakfast on the Birthday of a Scottish Poet"; "After the Funeral of a Young Woman Who Played Her Guitar on the Corner"; "On a Trailway Bus a Man Who Holds His Head Strangely Speaks to the Seat Beside Him"; "During a Funeral Service the Mind of the Young Preacher Wanders Again."

Don't you want to read these poems! Williams was a fine poet and a grand old gentleman.
And here's a brief inscription he wrote to me in one of his books, Imperfect Love.
<![CDATA[Three Books That Chill]]>Sat, 12 Aug 2017 18:30:29 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/three-books-that-chill
Psycho by Robert Bloch

I’ve seen the Hitchcock movie, Psycho, maybe twenty times but never felt compelled to find and read the source material, the novel by Robert Bloch. The other day, while browsing at the library, I came across the book on a shelf, facing out, and couldn’t resist. Bloch’s book is just as chilling, but in ways that might surprise. For example, the famous shower scene takes up barely a page, with a final sentence that devastates. On the other hand, the psychological suspense in other sections, especially between Norman and his mother, is riveting. Bloch digs and digs until we know these characters. We understand their desperation and their desperate actions. Much of the psychology is dated and even flawed, but this matters little because this self-encapsulated little world is presented in such convincing detail. What’s also surprising is how faithful the film is to the book, right down to the money stolen at the beginning of the story, though we more fully understand Marion’s motivation in Bloch’s precise rendering. Marion Crane, by the way, is named Mary in the book, though I’m not sure why Hitchcock would have changed that. I understand the Crane part, the bird reference. But why Marion? Short for marionette?
Blood in the Water: the Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson
I was fourteen in 1971. The fact that I recall nothing about the uprising at Attica tells you all you need to know about fourteen-year-olds. My only reference point is Al Pacino chanting “Attica” in the movie Dog Day Afternoon. It was an anthem of injustice for him and maybe for our society back then. But that soon changed. And Attica became better known as a place to which the most dangerous prisoners were sent. This is an important book, not only about the uprising itself, but about the system that fostered the riot and then systematically tried to cover up the brutal retaking of the prison, the details of which will enrage you and better help you understand the state of prisons and civil rights today.
Here’s a little background for those who are as clueless as I was before reading this absorbing account. The living conditions at Attica in 1971 were deplorable. If basic human needs had been met, no riot would have ensued. The riot, which was unplanned and more a result of prisoners’ panic over being inadvertently locked in a holding area one morning, led to standoff that lasted four days. Over thirty hostages were held inside the prison, while troopers paced outside, seething with fury. When negotiations broke down, troopers were told to take back the prison by force. Tear gas then incapacitated the prisoners, who were unarmed. This was followed by a barrage of gunfire, about 3000 bullets in all, which killed nearly forty people, ten of them hostages. Not a single bullet needed to be fired for troopers to retake the prison. The retaking was followed by months of torture and indiscriminate punishment, which was followed by decades of cover-up and courtroom battles for justice. The last few chapters focus on the families of the hostages, who were never properly compensated or counseled.
This is a story about injustice, brutality, racism, but it’s also a story about perseverance, recounting the overwhelming obstacles inmates and hostage families had to endure to have their voices heard. This book is a tribute to that perseverance.
Upstream by Mary Oliver
This short book of essays, Upstream, by poet Mary Oliver offers a different kind of chill, as in chill out. You’ll find insightful and comforting essays here on building sheds, on watching spiders, on reading Poe and Whitman, on blue pastures and turtles. Oliver makes you feel as if you’re on a walking tour with her through nature, stopping now and then to discuss the books that helped shape her. And through it all, Oliver is fine company.

<![CDATA[One-Sentence Reviews]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 02:33:18 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/one-sentence-reviewsI haven’t posted book reviews in a while, which doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. To catch up, I’ll confine myself to a single sentence per book. When I read reviews myself, I usually gloss over the details. I just want to know if the book is worth my time. So maybe one sentence will be the perfect length here. You’ll just have to trust me about the worth.
I’ve been on a McEwan kick lately, and this book includes one of the most riveting and haunting opening chapters I’ve ever read.
This is a lighthearted spy novel with a most satisfying ending.
UNDERWORLD   Don Delillo
I’ve been dipping back into this masterpiece, which at over 800 pages is daunting, but if you can’t commit to that, the first sixty pages alone will satisfy.
The title is misleading if physics doesn’t come easy to you, and instead, this will be slow reading, but the labor will lead to huge rewards because Tyson always manages to convey a sense of wonder.
Who wouldn’t want to read about such a road trip, especially with the delightful Merullo as tour guide?
LIT UP    David Denby
Denby visits several high school literature classes for a year, and his reporting is captivating, reminding us of the important role of teachers in inspiring young people.
NOISE OF TIME    Julian Barnes
This story of Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, who lived in constant fear of punishment under Stalin, is a remarkable and timely chronicle of the importance of art in society.
TALKING IT OVER    Julian Barnes
This clever book reads like a script, where three characters seem to speak to each other, recounting the same events from different points of view, but they’re really speaking to us.
An intimate portrait of friendship that’s both exotic and ordinary, with lush descriptions of Naples, Italy.
FOREVER WORDS    Johnny Cash
These are quiet, poignant poems that Cash never got around to putting to music.
There’s always more to learn, and their story never gets old.
THE LITTLE SISTER    Raymond Chandler
Chandler’s plots are always convoluted, with some poor schmuck getting killed every ten pages, but the writing is so wonderfully crisp, like a brisk morning walk in late September, that plot doesn’t matter.
THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER    Raymond Chandler
This book includes an essay on writing murder mysteries, along with several finely crafted short stories.
HIROSHIMA   John Hersey
We follow the lives of six Japanese men and women just prior to and then after the bomb in this devastating account of ordinary lives disrupted in unfathomable ways.

<![CDATA[Book Review: The Nix]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:50:16 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/book-review-the-nix
Last night I had about ten pages left in Nathan Hill’s The Nix. I could have easily finished before dozing off for the night, but I wanted to savor it a bit longer. It’s a 620-page book that you’ll devour in three or four days, it’s that good. It feels like an important book, an achievement, a record of the turbulence of the sixties, a chronicle of a family, a perceptive study on what it’s like to lose everything, an astute assessment of what’s bankrupt in politics and culture today. It’s all that and more. But mostly, it’s a damn good, compelling story that’s propelled by genuine warmth and hilarity. And the writing? Hill reminds me a bit of David Foster Wallace in his scope and ambition, but while Wallace seems to revel in his own intellect, and why wouldn’t he, Hill remains earthbound and interested more in the integrity of the story. He does include a ten-page single sentence about the manic pull of gaming, but I’ll indulge him that, because even this serves a purpose in the story as a whole. This is a wonderful book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I want to read it again.