Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • AN EMPIRE OF STORIES

    Turkey is a novelist's dream, or perhaps a land dreamed by a novelist. A border country between Europe and the Middle East, it has for centuries been so many things to so many people--Christians, Muslims, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and, of course, Turks--that it has become a place where fantasies and realities collide like tectonic plates. Everybody has a story, and, as two new novels set in Turkey demonstrate in their radically varying tales, every story is startlingly unique.In "Birds Without Wings," Louis de Bernieres tackles a piece of Turkish history with the same vigor that he used to sketch World War II Greece in "Corelli's Mandolin." But this is a darker book, with nothing like its predecessor's central love affair to soften its tragedy. Near the novel's beginning, de Bernieres introduces Philothei, his fictional village's most beautiful woman, about whom one character says she "reminded you of death," because to look upon her was to know that "everything decays away and is...
  • HIGH ART

    Sometimes Art Spiegelman has a little trouble figuring out who he is. Especially when he travels, he says, "it's really an identity crisis. You know that form you fill out when you get on an airplane going abroad? I've used every possible description--journalist, writer, graphic artist, whatever. Then, finally, and rather proudly, cartoonist. For a while, I was sort of embarrassed, because for much of my life, being a cartoonist had about as much status as being a plumber. Now one can say it with actual glee." Sitting in his downtown Manhattan studio, a Camel Light seemingly surgically attached to his right hand, Spiegelman makes an uncharacteristic pause, and then plunges on. "But I don't like being noticed. I like when the work is noticed. But not me. When I wrote down 'cartoonist,' I was stopped by a customs guard and asked, 'You make comics? Spiegelman? You make "Maus"?' All of a sudden I'm talking about my life with a customs guard. After that, I decided to go back to 'small...
  • AN EYE WITHOUT EQUAL

    Few people have led more storied lives than Henri Cartier-Bresson, who died last week at the age of 95. Born rich into a family of French thread merchants, he trained as a painter enamored of the surrealists. After a trip to Africa in 1930, where he wound up nearly dying from blackwater fever, he returned to France and took up photography. Almost immediately, his work set a standard for excellence that has yet to be matched. Art photography, portraiture, photojournalism--there was nothing he could not do with a camera.As a French soldier and Resistance fighter during World War II, he escaped from German prisoner-of-war camps three times. After the war, he was one of the founders of Magnum, the photojournalists' cooperative for which he shot the rise of communist China and the fall of British India. Then, when he was in his 60s, he abandoned photography, shelving his camera in favor of a pencil and sketch pad. Drawing became his passion for the rest of his life.To Cartier-Bresson,...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

    Country of Origin by Don LeeIt's 1980, and Lisa Countryman, an exotic young American, goes missing in Tokyo. She had been working as a hostess at an exclusive bar, claiming to be doing research on Japanese women for her dissertation. But Lisa, half Asian and half black, has a secret agenda, which becomes clear only late in the book. Almost all the characters--including a junior U.S. diplomat assigned to her case and a Japanese cop on her trail--have complex issues with race. In this innovative first novel set on the eve of Japan's economic boom, Lee, a Korean-American who grew up in Tokyo and Seoul, tells a poignant story of prejudice, betrayal and the search for identity.The Generation of 'Uchira' and 'Osoro' by Yasuko NakamuraIn Japan, high-school girls have created numerous fads, including Tamagotch, extra-baggy white socks and text messaging. Nobody knows them better than Nakamura, Tokyo's teen-marketing guru, who has worked with 100,000 girls during her 18-year career. This...
  • BOOKS: BEACH PAPERBACKS

    Everybody knows "beach reading" is a contradiction. Too much sand, sun and glare. But if you insist on it, bring along one of these.The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. Winner of the National Book Award for fiction, it charts three lives as they intertwine in the devastation of post-World War II Japan.The Known World by Edward P. Jones. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is built around the troubling fact that occasionally, African-Americans also owned slaves in the antebellum South.The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Summary (an autistic boy solves a dog's murder) doesn't do justice to this beguiling novel.I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company by Brian Hall. A fine fictional re-creation of the odd partnership between Lewis and Clark and their female Indian guide, Sacagawea.Positively Fifth Street by James McManus. As always with Las Vegas, fact trumps fiction as --the author goes to cover the World Series of Poker.
  • WAITING FOR THE MOVIE

    You don't usually go to government reports for arresting prose. But consider this sentence: "Indeed, at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century." Yikes. And that's not the half of it. According to a report on the reading habits of Americans issued last week by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of the adult American population now reads for pleasure. Using Census Bureau data, the NEA found that the number of Americans who say they've even opened a single book of fiction, let alone a poem or a play, over the course of a year has declined by 10 percent, from 56.9 percent in 1982 to 46.7 percent today. It gets worse. Young adults between 18 and 34, a category that once claimed the status of most-active readers, is now the lowest, dropping 28 percent since 1982. And by literature, "we're not talking about the number of people who reread Proust," says Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA. "Literature" means...
  • A 'SMILE' WORTH THE WAIT

    I'm sitting in a huge sound-stage in Burbank, Calif., and I've got a serious case of the willies. First off, I still can't believe what I'm seeing: Brian Wilson, fronting a 10-piece band, poised to launch into a rehearsal of "Smile." This is so surreally unbelievable--like an acid flashback to something that never actually happened. In the heavily chronicled legend of Wilson and the Beach Boys--a story that begins in innocence and ends in drugs, mental illness and acrimony--"Smile" is the enigmatic centerpiece. It is the most famous pop-music album never released. Imagine that "Sgt. Pepper" hadn't come out but remained only a rumor. That's the story of "Smile."Wilson started work on it in 1966, after completing "Pet Sounds." By then he had quit touring with the band and had become a total creature of the recording studio. With his lyricist, Van Dyke Parks, he labored for more than a year on what was to be an epic album-length musical meditation on America. Conceived and created just...
  • THE TWELFTH BOOK OF REVELATION

    Beverly Reynolds got to the Christian Supply Store in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at 5:30 p.m. Along with 900 other fans, she was waiting in line recently to buy a signed copy of "Glorious Appearing." The 12th volume in the "Left Behind" series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, describes the events leading up to the last days, when Christ returns to earth. The authors, kicking off a 12-city U.S. promotional tour, weren't due to start signing until 7 p.m. But while the crowd was patient and polite, everyone was eager to get a book. This, after all, was the installment in which Christ triumphs over Satan and begins his 1,000-year reign over the earth. Reynolds, who had read all the novels, said she had stopped attending church before she read the first one, "Left Behind," which appeared in 1995. "Nobody wants to be left behind," she said. "When the time comes, I want to go to heaven." When they turned the lights out at Christian Supply that night, the store had sold 1,100 copies...
  • CLINTON: SELLING HIMSELF

    Bill Clinton's keynote address to Book Expo America earlier this month in Chicago was a reminder that nobody sells Clinton like Clinton. Promoting his autobiography, "My Life," to the annual convention of the nation's publishers and booksellers, he began by saying, "People tell me books like this are boring and self-serving. I just hope mine is interesting and self-serving." If the book is anything like his speech, no worries. A typical response: Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Miss., walked out of the speech and immediately upped his advance order from 100 to 200 copies.The campaign goes into high gear when the book appears June 22 in a one-day laydown nationwide. The week kicks off with a "60 Minutes" interview, followed by appearances on "Oprah," the "Today" show, "Larry King" and "Charlie Rose." To accommodate demand beyond the 2.3 million copies ordered by retailers, Knopf has already reserved press time at the printer's and stockpiled paper for subsequent...
  • DIVING INTO A MYSTERY

    When the seeker dropped anchor out in the Atlantic miles off the New Jersey coast in the fall of 1991, the 13 wreck divers on board were simply looking for their idea of a good time. That is, they were preparing to dive 200 feet into uncharted waters and risk their lives exploring an unidentified object on the ocean floor. They didn't know what they would find. So when the first divers surfaced with the news that they had discovered a submarine, the men were ecstatic. When subsequent dives proved the sub to be a Nazi U-boat not recorded on any chart, the men knew that they had stumbled on the wreck diver's grail--a piece of history that was theirs for the taking. What none of them knew then was that they had embarked on a journey that would last most of a decade, turn what had been a weekend hobby into an obsession, ruin two marriages and cost three men their lives."Shadow Divers," first-time author Robert Kurson's pulse-quickening account of the attempt to explore and identify the...
  • Bumpy Road Ahead

    Experience teaches us that when we are approached on the street by a man carrying a sign announcing the end is near, we should do two things: give the guy a wide berth and don't believe a word he says. But what if the person carrying the sign turns out to be a highly respected social critic or a noted cultural historian? Maybe we should stick around and listen up.Back when Jane Jacobs published "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" in 1961, city planners and traffic engineers did their best to laugh her out of town. In the intervening decades, we have come to see the wisdom of almost everything she had to say about neighborhoods as the pulse and soul of city life. So when Jacobs hits us with a new book--her seventh and most accessible--titled "Dark Age Ahead," arguing that we're stumbling into the same cultural decline that befell the Roman Empire, we at least know enough to put our skepticism on hold. And when Samuel P. Huntington tells us in "Who Are We?" that massive...
  • Fiction: New Snack Attack

    Tom Perrotta's new novel, "Little Children," appeared in March to glowing reviews. The critics loved his darkly comic story of what happens to a quiet suburb when a convicted child molester moves back to town. Then readers started loving it, too. The book has been back to press six times, with 95,000 copies now in print. But as St. Martin's Press, the book's publisher, discovered a few weeks after publication, not everyone was a fan. The folks at Pepperidge Farm, in particular, were unhappy--not with the book but with its cover, on which their Goldfish crackers were prominently displayed without the company's permission. According to Dori Weintraub, associate director at St. Martin's, Pepperidge Farm insisted that "those fish were their fish." St. Martin's could only agree. So "Little Children" got a makeover. The crackers were replaced by chocolate-chip cookies. And this time Weintraub made sure those cookies wouldn't make any trouble. "I baked them myself," she says.
  • War Wounds

    Alexandra Fuller remembers precisely the moment that "Scribbling the Cat" got tricky. "I was sitting in the Denver airport three years ago," she said in a phone interview from outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she lives with her husband and two children. She was reading over a draft of a story that would run in The New Yorker about a white African--an ex-soldier in the Rhodesian Army and a born-again Christian. "The magazine had asked for 6,000 words and already I was up to 30,000, and sitting in the airport I felt sick when it hit me that to tell the story, I was going to have to write about myself the way I'd planned to write about this man." Doing it right, she realized, meant telling the reader, "There's a piece of him that you see as vulnerable and only I saw that piece, because he had decided he was in love with me. And in a bizarre way, it was this love story. Part of me felt true love for him. And part of me was utterly, utterly horrified.""Scribbling the Cat" describes...
  • HAUNTING QUESTIONS

    It's easy to see why Nuruddin Farah's name keeps coming up as a likely recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature. He has the good fortune--from a writer's point of view--of being a native of Somalia, a Third World country whose recent past has been cursed first by dictatorship, then by civil war. Farah himself was persecuted and exiled during the years of dictatorship. But his eligibility for the Nobel is much more than circumstantial. He has turned not just his hard life but the life of his native country into the heart of his fiction. His books debate the great themes--people versus the state, clan versus nationality, family versus the individual--just the sort of writing that stirs the hearts of those high-minded judges in Stockholm. Just the kind of book that usually puts you to sleep by the second chapter. And that's the noteworthy thing about Farah. His strange and compelling books don't just keep you awake. They haunt you."Links" (336 pages. Riverhead Books), Farah's ninth...
  • A BLEAK BOOK YOU CAN'T PUT DOWN

    It's easy to see why Nuruddin Farah's name keeps coming up as a likely recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature. He had the good fortune--from a writer's point of view--of being a native of Somalia, a Third World country whose recent past has been cursed first by dictatorship, then by civil war. But his eligibility for the Nobel is much more than circumstantial. His books debate the great themes of people versus the state, clan versus nationality, family versus the individual. It's just the sort of writing that stirs the hearts of those high-minded judges in Stockholm--and just the kind of book that usually puts you to sleep by the second chapter. That's the noteworthy thing about Farah. His strange and compelling books don't just keep you awake. They haunt you."Links," Farah's ninth novel, begins with one murder and ends with another. No sooner has Jeeblah, the protagonist, disembarked from an airplane at the Mogadishu airport than he sees a man shot dead for no good reason. Quite...
  • THE TWELFTH BOOK OF REVELATION

    Beverly Reynolds got to the Christian Supply Store in Spartanburg, S.C., at 5:30 p.m. last Tuesday. Along with 900 other fans, she was waiting in line to buy a signed copy of "Glorious Appearing," the 12th volume in the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins that describes the events leading up to the last days, when Christ returns to earth. The authors, kicking off a 12-city promotional tour, weren't due to start signing until 7 p.m. But while the crowd was patient and polite, everyone was eager to get a book. This, after all, was the installment in which Christ triumphs over Satan and begins his 1,000-year reign over the earth. Reynolds, who has read the whole series, says she had stopped attending church before she read the first novel, "Left Behind," which appeared in 1995. "Nobody wants to be left behind," she says. "When the time comes, I want to go to heaven." When they turned the lights out at Christian Supply that night, the store had sold 1,100 copies...
  • A LOVABLE POOL SHARK

    In an "ACKNOWLEDGMENTS" section at the end of "Something Rising (Light and Swift)," author Haven Kimmel thanks the book clubs that read and discussed her first two books, the memoir "A Girl Named Zippy" and the novel "The Solace of Leaving Early." That made me flinch, because I don't want to think of Kimmel as a writer who has issues that you can dissect and parse over jug wine and crackers. The loveliness of "Something Rising" has nothing to do with talking points and everything to do with making the acquaintance of Cassiopeia Claiborne, a young woman growing up in Indiana, "the daughter of a great romance, if what was meant by romance was wreckage," and a woman who, as she puts it with typical directness, plays pool for money. Having a group discussion about Cassie would, as far as I'm concerned, be like arguing the merits of your new best friend. The greatest part of "Something Rising" is just the pleasure of her company.While Cassie Claiborne was still a teenager her mother told...
  • No Master, No Commander

    Avast! the armada of recent books on global exploration and seafaring disaster has swelled far beyond the limits of a mere trend. It is now a genre unto itself. Antarctica's Scott and Shackleton have their own (continental?) shelves. The past month alone has seen books on Magellan, Cook, the HMS Bounty and Russian explorers trapped in the Arctic. Plainly, we can't get enough of mutiny, rogue whales attacking ships or megalomaniacal explorers. The worse the voyage, the better. But if the great explorers were memorable because they were often villainous, hapless and heroic, what happens when the leader of an expedition is a small-minded, paranoid man with no leadership ability? In the case of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, the answer is that we hardly remember it at all.As National Book Award winner Nathaniel Philbrick amply demonstrates in "Sea of Glory," the Ex. Ex., as it was called, was a huge success. It recorded hundreds of new plant and animal species. It charted...
  • Finding Humor In The Crudeness

    Rude, immature, inappropriate--"Vernon God Little," DBC Pierre's Man Booker Prize-winning debut, seems to bring out the schoolmarm in critics. I mean, I'd call it all those things, and I like the book. But the fact is, you're not supposed to write a novel about a Columbine-like school-shooting spree in the barbecue-sauce (nice touch) capital of central Texas--or anywhere else, for that matter. Some things just aren't funny. That truism, though, is one that you just know Pierre would disagree with. Otherwise, we wouldn't have this high-energy, inappropriately--and undeniably--funny novel.When something makes you laugh, you have to ask yourself, why? In the case of Pierre's novel, I think it's because he lets a lot of the hot air out of school shootings. He's not making fun of high-school students who kill other students and teachers. He's savaging all the hollow pieties that get preached by suddenly concerned community leaders and media jackals. Vernon Gregory Little is a teenager...
  • Heading In A Novel Direction

    Anyone who has ever met a famous person knows the feeling: it's weirdly like meeting someone you've met already. So when you meet Jimmy Carter, know this going in: most of what you thought you knew is true. He's polite. He's very smart. He has no taste for small talk. He hews to the discipline of a schedule. An interview with the former president conducted in his office at the Carter Center in Atlanta begins on schedule at precisely 4:45 p.m. and ends exactly an hour later. But watch out, because sooner than later, he'll surprise you. You might think of the ex-president as a Nobel Prize-winning champion of human rights and world health care. Carter, it turns out, thinks of himself first as a professional writer. He's a man with 18 books to his credit, and he's proud of it. "It's my family's major source of income," he says, leaning forward in a two-seater rocking chair. "I never have been on the lecture circuit, I never have been on a corporate board. I don't criticize others who...
  • L.A. Noir, In The Rough

    Lionel Walk, whose nick-name supplies the title for Pete Dexter's dazzling new novel, "Train," caddies at an exclusive Los Angeles country club in the early '50s. Something of a golf prodigy himself, the 18-year-old Train does his best not to draw attention to his talent: to a young black man in segregated America, attention almost always means trouble. He survives by paying close attention to everything around him, even the way a fat man's legs move in his slacks "like children hiding in the curtains." But despite his efforts at invisibility, Train catches the eye of a weekend golfer named Miller Packard, who turns out to be a cop. Train doesn't trust Packard--the first thing he notices is the gun in his golf bag--but when Train gets caught up in a murder investigation, it's Packard who gets him out of harm's way. If you think this is good news, you've never read a detective story.Sure, we've been here before: noir-era L.A., where corruption lurks under the shiny surface. In no...
  • Riffing On The Blues

    One night in 1903, W. C. Handy was standing on a railroad platform in Tutwiler, Miss., waiting for a train, when he heard a man playing a guitar using a knife for a slide on the strings. Handy, who would later write "St. Louis Blues," the first great blues pop song, said he'd never known anything like it. He called it "the weirdest music I had ever heard." One hundred years later, the blues still sounds... not weird, maybe--it's too familiar and ubiquitous now--but still utterly distinct, almost otherworldly. And while it's astonishingly influential--this brainchild of black American musicians has supplied the roots of jazz, rhythm & blues, rock and rap--amazingly, none of this dalliance with other musical forms has diluted the original. In the right hands, the blues retains the same raw, elemental power that startled Handy on that railroad platform 100 years ago. In "Feel Like Going Home," Martin Scorsese's new documentary about the blues, he subtitles the less decipherable...
  • Love, Death And Light

    Everything I do is arduous," Sally Mann says as she coats a glass plate with collodion and ether, just the way photographers did it 150 years ago. "Why do I do that? I don't know. Not because I'm better than anyone else..." Mann has always used unwieldy large-format bellows cameras with 19th-century brass-rimmed lenses, equipment so crude that she uses her hand--the only digital thing in sight--as the shutter. A few years ago, she raised the bar when she began working with these collodion plates, an arcane process that requires coating the glass, keeping it damp while taking the picture and developing it, all within minutes. If you've ever wondered why 19th-century photographs look the way they do--ghostly, but with pinpoint detail--here's the answer. Mann is often told that her methods are completely unnecessary. Lately, though, while photographing American Civil War battlefields, she's stumbled onto an appreciative, if unlikely, audience. "Those Civil War re-enactors know all...
  • Why Didion Is Still Great

    Recently a friend of mine told me that she'd grown tired of reading Joan Didion. Almost immediately, she corrected herself, saying that this wasn't always true, that sometimes Didion still got her excited and that she was such a masterful writer that even the stuff you didn't like was always admirable. I know what she means, though.My friend and I are in our 50s, and there are writers that you start out admiring early in life and somewhere along the line you get tired of them. This is a vaguely embarrassing thing to admit, because I suspect the fault is more mine than the writers'. We are so accustomed, in this disposable culture we inhabit, to be always on the lookout for something new. We take writers we've admired for granted, and if they don't change--or, to employ the odious phrase so common in today's critical parlance, "reinvent themselves"--then we assume they have nothing further to tell us.This is certainly not Didion's problem, but rather, our problem with her. For almost...
  • Midnight Ramblers

    It's not surprising that Keith Richards is the most interesting talker in "According to the Rolling Stones," the band's own oral history and coffee-table photo book. In interviews, he's always been the most thoughtful, the funniest and certainly the frankest member of the group. (Best Keith line here: "I've always thought of songs as gifts that just arrive... I mean, after all, I'm the guy that wrote 'Satisfaction' in my sleep.") What does raise an eyebrow is that the second most interesting person in this book is not Mick Jagger but Prince Rupert Loewenstein, their business manager.Prince Rupert is one of the people (Don Was, Sheryl Crow, Ahmet Ertegun) whose testimony is tossed into the book periodically to break up the round-robin story the band itself tells. He's the one who explains, although not this bluntly, that as their record sales have stagnated, touring on a global scale has become more of a financial imperative, as have merchandising, corporate sponsorship and licensing...
  • Books: The Next Jonathan?

    Word on the literary street is that Jonathan Lethem could be the next Jonathan Franzen. Franzen had his success with "The Corrections," a sprawling literary novel about America. Lethem's new novel, "The Fortress of Solitude," takes an equally big slice out of the American pie. Officially, Lethem's publisher, Doubleday, won't go near such a comparison, although editor in chief Bill Thomas thinks Lethem's book will do well, "and I don't just mean sell well. I mean this book will be read by my son's grandchildren." The most Lethem himself will brag is to say that, until now, "I didn't have the chops or the maturity to do it right," meaning, plainly, that now he does. And he's right. This quasi-autobiographical epic about Brooklyn and black-white friendship isn't perfect, but it's got enough material to keep four or five smaller novels going. The big difference between Franzen and Lethem? Franzen looked down his nose at Oprah. Lethem thinks being a Pennie's Pick at Costco (that would be...
  • Adventurous Spirit

    His name was George Hamilton Milligan IV, but he was better suited to his nickname: Joe. A warm spirit, Milligan craved adventure--sky diving, bungee-jumping, snowboarding and scuba diving his way through life. More than anything, he loved to surf. So the Florida native moved to Australia, where he found the most spectacular waves yet. Highly intelligent but apolitical, he wasn't suspicious of anyone. He never considered the possibility that his surfing jaunts to Indonesia were potentially dangerous. But last Oct. 12, two weeks shy of his 24th birthday, Milligan was one of 200 people who were killed when a car bomb exploded outside Club Sari in Bali. Milligan, who had recently graduated from college, was spending his last weekend in Indonesia with friends before returning home to Orlando. Last month, in memoriam, some 50 friends and family members paddled out to the waters where Joe learned to surf.
  • Love, Death, Light

    "Everything I do is arduous," Sally Mann says as she coats a glass plate with collodion and ether, just the way photographers did it 150 years ago. "Why do I do that? I don't know. Not because I'm better than anyone else... " Mann always used unwieldy large-format bellows cameras with 19th-century brass-rimmed lenses, equipment so crude that she uses her hand--the only digital thing in sight--as the shutter. A few years ago, she raised the bar another several notches when she began working with these collodion plates, an arcane process that requires coating the glass, keeping it damp while taking the picture and developing it, all within minutes. If you've ever wondered why 19th-century photographs look the way they do--ghostly, but with pinpoint detail--here's the answer. Mann is often told that her methods are completely unnecessary. Lately, though, while photographing Civil War battlefields, she's stumbled onto an appreciative, if unlikely, audience. "Those Civil War re-enactors...
  • SECONDHAND PROSE

    Some people check stock quotations to see how their investments are doing. I look at used-book prices online. I've never been a collector, but over the years a few novels that I've hung on to simply because I liked them have, ah, matured in value. I own a couple of Cormac McCarthy hardcovers from the '80s, for instance, that are now worth $1,500 each. My indifference to collecting took a beating the day I discovered those prices online. But what really holds my attention when I visit a used-book site is how little I have to pay for an out-of-print book that I might just want to read. Used hardcovers that I never hoped to find in a local store are suddenly at my fingertips for $10 or less. If I order promptly, that is, because it turns out that I have competition. Last year Americans spent at least $530 million on used books, roughly 5 percent of the $10 billion trade-book market. In this marginally profitable business, where sales have been virtually flat for the last five years,...