"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shiro Hamao's "The Devil's Disciple"

"eroguro-nansensu" or as they say in English "erotic grotesque nonesense" was a school of writing in 1920's Japan. Decadent, druggy, kinky, and...fun. The most famous writer in that movement without a leader was Edogawa Rampo (yes it is a play on the name Edgar Allen Poe) and Shiro Hamao. Hamao was a lawyer by trade from a very well connected family. He threw that life away to become a crime writer, and an early supporter of gay rights in Japan. Died young, yet a dandy, Hamao had it all. And we can be thankful for Hesperus publishing these two short novels "The Devil's Disciple" and "Did He Kill Him?" 
Both stories are pretty pulpy, but it drips with Asakusa 1920's life, and both have a gay sensual quality. Imagine Cocteau writing a gay noir detective story - and that is pretty much what is here. So yeah, not a masterpiece, but nevertheless a fascinating writer in a fascinating country in a very exciting series of moments. 
Both stories deal with seduction that leads to a crime - and no regrets! One can only hope shortly that there will be more Shiro Hamao stories in English.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ry Cooder's "Los Angeles Stories"

The stars are lined up perfectly for musicians who write books.  Some of my favorite books are by rock n' roll people i.e. Patti Smith's "Just kids," and Nick Cave's novels.   And now we have a superb collection of short stories by guitarist/songwriter Ry Cooder that deals with Los Angeles from 1940 to the mid-50's and its brilliant.  What you get is a series of snapshots of life in different neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and some of these places don't exist anymore - but yet they live via Cooder's writing.  After reading this book I wanted to rush off and locate volumes on Los Angeles history and its tall tales.
All narratives are strong, and very Noir in its approach and the way it looks at urban life.  Money is tight, the fear of communism is in the air, and more bad times are just around the corner - yet the eccentricity of the characters are incredibly endearing - even though they're very low-level criminal types or even murderers.  Nevertheless "Los Angeles Stories" is a classic of urban history research and fiction.   After each story and while reading them, I was consistently googling to see if they actually exist or not.  Some do and some don't and that's all part of the fun.   Essential!