Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • Books: A New 'Past'

    Near the beginning of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," there is the famous scene in which the narrator inhales the aroma of a madeleine, a shell-shaped pastry, dipped in tea. It is a smell not encountered since childhood, and it unlocks the treasure house of his memory. Everything that follows, all 3,000 pages of the saga, stems from this scene. Or so we've been told--we've made it only through the first 150 pages of Proust's masterpiece, although we've gotten that far at least three times. If only we had waited for Stephane Heuet. The French advertising illustrator has completed two volumes in a projected 16-volume illustrated version of Proust. "Illustrated"--as in comic books. Though it was widely condemned by French critics ("Marcel is being murdered!" said Le Figaro), Heuet's first volume quickly sold more than 50,000 copies. Maybe U.S. audiences, schooled on comic art like Art Spiegelman's "Maus" and Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan," will be more accepting, now that...
  • Books: Best Beach Reads

    Summer reading lists always seem to focus on hardcovers--but who wants to lug McCullough on John Adams to the beach? Instead, we suggest paperbacks, a few can't-fail classics and, OK, a couple of new hardcovers. ...
  • Writers: Talented, Like Totally

    Fifty years ago it took a talented adult novelist to capture the wayward voice of a generation in "The Catcher in the Rye." These days, kids just do it themselves. Or at least one kid has. Nick McDonell was 17 when he wrote "Twelve" (Grove Press), a nihilistic novel appearing in bookstores next week. McDonell is no J. D. Salinger. But he's smart enough to know that. Ask him if he doesn't think the characters in his book aren't a little, ah, thinly drawn, and he quickly agrees: "My characters are caricatures of themselves." He could've argued that the teens he writes about are disaffected prep-school louts from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with too few brains, too much money and way too much access to all sorts of drugs. In other words, they're supposed to be so shallow that they're hard to tell apart. Instead he does the stand-up thing and tells the truth: "I'm not good enough yet to do full-blown psychological portraits." What he does know how to do is establish a mood ...
  • Krazy For You

    Almost nobody remembers Krazy Kat today. It has gone to the funny-paper graveyard along with the Katzenjammer Kids, Rip Kirby, Terry and the Pirates, the Yellow Kid, Little Nemo and dozens-hundreds? thousands?-of other, lesser comic strips.To its remaining fans, this is nothing short of an outrage, a crime against culture, like forgetting Stravinsky or John Coltrane or Picasso (said to have been a fan of the kat). In his introduction to the latest collection of Krazy Kat strips, "Krazy & Ignatz: Comprising the Complete Full-Page Comic Strips, 1925-26" (Fantagraphics Books), comics historian Bill Blackbeard erupts in full tantrum mode in his first paragraph:"Here it is ... a creation fit to rank with the cinematic work of Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields, the prose of Mark Twain and Bill Faulkner, hailed as the most richly creative comic strip of all time-and there's a pretty good chance it won't turn a buck. Krazy Kat, you see, doesn't sell at all well." Just getting warmed up,...
  • It's Black, White--And Noir

    In his forthcoming novel, "Bad Boy Brawly Brown," Walter Mosley sends his hero Easy Rawlins in search of a young African-American man who's joined up with the Urban Revolutionary Party in mid-'60s Los Angeles. But just when Easy finds the young man at a party meeting, the cops barge in. "A police raid meant nothing to me," Easy says. "I'd been in whorehouses, speakeasies, barber shops and alley crap games when the police came down. Sometimes I got away and sometimes I lied about my name. There was nothing spectacular about being rousted for being black."It takes only a few pages for Mosley to capture the anger and violence of the '60s, and he does it from the point of view of an African-American man who wants no part of radicalism and even less to do with the white power structure that throws the police at the slightest sign of unrest. The remarkable thing about this scene, though, is that it takes place not in some ambitious social novel about racial violence but in a detective...
  • Books:Angels With Dirty Faces

    In "Firehouse" (Hyperion), David Halberstam looks at the men of Engine Co. 40 and Ladder Co. 35, who work out of a firehouse at West 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. On September 11, 2001, two rigs with 13 men aboard responded when planes hit the World Trade Center. Only one man survived--and he wound up with a broken neck. "Firehouse" portrays those men, at home and on the job, and we get to know them well. We know that Jimmy Giberson's feet were so big his boots came one to a box. Mike D'Auria was seriously into tattoos, but his tattoos were seriously different: on one arm he sported the Serenity Prayer, on the other a portrait of Saint Anthony, the patron of lost things. And like so many of his co-workers, D'Auria came from a family of firefighters--nine on his mother's side alone. Firefighting is still mostly male--and mostly white--and, to a surprising degree, a family affair, with sons following fathers and, quite often, grandfathers, into the firehouse. As...
  • Books: A Perfect Visit 'By The Lake'

    John McGahern's "That They May Face the Rising Sun" is the most perfect novel I've read in years. By perfect I mean composed, or built, like a handcrafted table, with everything mortised and sanded and finished to a T. Things happen in this book, which was published in America with the title "By the Lake," the way they happen in life. We meet people, but we may not learn their first or last names or what exactly they do until the story is half over. Most of the people live on the edges of a lake in the Irish countryside. One couple, the Ruttledges, are transplants from London, and watching them assimilate--and watching them learn the degree to which they will always remain outsiders--is the spark that drives this story.Through the Ruttledges we meet the rest: Jamesie and Mary, a kindly older couple across the lake; John Quinn, a womanizer; Patrick Ryan, a handyman and a brooding soul, one of those disagreeable people who see to the heart of things and then use what they know like a...
  • Voices: Two Shades Of Blue

    If you read biographies of artists to understand the people behind the work you love, you're always disappointed, because the facts never penetrate the mysteries. As Robert Gordon confesses near the end of his forthcoming biography of Muddy Waters, "Can't Be Satisfied," the "only way most anyone could get to know" Muddy Waters was through his music. And you don't need to read "Tonight at Noon," Sue Graham Mingus's eloquent memoir of her late husband, Charles, to know that he was volatile, bullying, childish, passionate, considerate, cruel and shrewd, and all before breakfast. You know that just listening to his music. But you read the biographies of artists for the stories and the dish--like the one about Mingus as a young man, riding his motorcycle through Los Angeles suburbs, where every time he spotted a black lawn jockey, he'd haul out the lariat he carried for just such occasions, rope the statue and decapitate it. In Gordon's biography of the father of urban, electrified blues...
  • A Look Behind The Veil

    Give Rick Moody this much: whatever "The Black Veil" is, it isn't just another book about a writer and his bouts with depression and addiction. The author of "The Ice Storm" does discuss the depression that overcame him in his 20s, his alcoholism and drug abuse and his kicking same in some detail. He also writes at length about the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "The Minister's Black Veil." He pours out the research he's done on his 18th- century forebear Joseph (Handkerchief) Moody, the minister upon whom Hawthorne modeled the veil-wearing protagonist of his story. For good measure, he throws in the whole text of the Hawthorne story. The resulting book is surely one of the oddest memoirs ever written. Occasionally wonderful, it is also self-indulgent, infuriating and fascinating, sometimes all on the same page.Like the minister in Hawthorne's story, who alienated his flock, his friends and his fiancee by donning a veil for no apparent reason, Moody is obsessed with what's hid-den: what...
  • The Boys In The Band

    Watching "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's film of the Band's last concert in 1976, I thought, "This is where I came in." That is, the music preserved in the film-which has been freshened up and technically fussed over for a 25th anniversary reissue on CD and DVD and in theaters in a handful of big cities-is the music I grew up on: late '60s and early '70s rock.Or, more precisely, music that today would be called alt-rock or roots rock, categories that the Band almost single-handedly invented. Or, if they didn't, they share the credit with the other performers in this movie: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Muddy Waters. Ironically, this film preserves these talents at the height of their popularity. As performers, only Neil Young and Dylan would continue to matter both critically and commercially in the decades that followed. But the influence of these people was something else. That would live.The Band never had a big hit on the radio, and their...
  • Books: The Middle Of The Journey

    In 1967, an off-Broadway play called "MacBird" by Barbara Garson had a lot of nasty fun by retelling "Macbeth" as the story of President Lyndon Johnson. This not very subtle satire suggested that Johnson engineered the assassination of John F. Kennedy and usurped the presidency. The play kicked up a mild furor that split more or less along the lines of "How dare she?" versus "He had it coming." The one thing nobody thought to say at the time was that Johnson indeed bore a striking resemblance to Macbeth in at least one sense: here was a man who, while capable of great good, had somehow managed to engineer his own destruction.It would take several decades before people began to agree that Johnson was a tragic hero. And perhaps the most important tipping point was Robert A. Caro's extraordinary multivolume biography of Johnson. Since the first volume appeared in 1982, readers have discovered just how fiercely the forces of darkness and light vied for Johnson's soul. They've also been...
  • Publishing: King Of The Mountain

    Charles Frazier is one of those writers who move by instinct, and he's learned to bide his time. It's been five years since he published the best-selling, critically acclaimed Civil War novel "Cold Mountain," and since then he's been prospecting in library stacks, researching his next book. "I take a lot of notes," he told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. "I write sketches. It's the point in writing a book where it looks like a scary kind of mess, because nothing coheres for a while." Frazier hopes to finish the novel in question before 2005. "Like I said," he says, laughing, "I'm slow."The publishing industry, however, can move at warp speed. Last week, after reading just a one-page proposal from Frazier, Random House bought the National Book Award winner's next novel for what sources close to the deal said was $8.25 million. The publishing community was hardly through gasping--no one could recall a piece of literary fiction selling for so much--when producer Scott Rudin, who's...
  • Confessions Of A Dvd Junkie

    I can't remember when I first got hooked on the commentary tracks that accompany some DVDs. I do know when I recognized that it was time to pull back a bit. That would be the afternoon about a month ago on which I was brought to my senses by my teenage daughter.She was strolling through the living room when she looked over my shoulder and saw--and heard--what was on the television screen. And then she cracked up. "You're listening to the commentary track for 'Toy Story 2'?" It was not a question so much as an expression of disbelief, and even I had to laugh. "OK, OK," I said. "Enough is enough." Or words to that effect. I can't remember what I said exactly. I do remember that I very definitely did not say what I was actually thinking. Like poor Norman Bates wrapped up in his blanket at the end of "Psycho," I had to show that I was sane. But what I wanted to blurt out was that the commentary for "Toy Story 2" was one of the very best I'd heard yet. A model of its kind. A benchmark...
  • Q&Amp;A: Dvd Evolution

    Peter Becker is president of the Criterion Collection, a 17-year-old company that has specialized in high-quality laser disc and DVD versions of classic and contemporary films. Their catalog runs the gamut from "Armageddon" to "Amarcord," from "Spartacus" to "The Seventh Seal." They work very hard on film restoration, they include lots of supplemental material to enrich enjoyment and understanding of a film and no one does better commentary tracks. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Jones spoke with Becker:NEWSWEEK: What are the origins of the commentary track?Peter Becker: Film scholar Ron Haver's commentary on "King Kong" came out on a Criterion laser disc in 1984. It's still one of the greatest tracks ever. The Criterion idea has always been to push the limits of the medium we're working in. In those days, a laser disc had two analog audio tracks--stereo, L[eft] and R[ight]. "King Kong" was a mono, so what do you do with the other track? Commentary.The laser disc?A big analog platter, now the...
  • A Samurai In Sneakers

    So why does a 33-year-old Englishman decide to write a slam-bang adventure novel that's also an intricate literary puzzle about a 20-year-old Japanese man searching for his long-lost father in Tokyo? Frankly, because he can. When you're as gifted as David Mitchell, there's no telling what you're liable to attempt. "It didn't really occur to me to be daunted," he admits. "Maybe if it had, I would have been." It really doesn't matter how he got there. What counts is that Mitchell has produced a novel as accomplished as anything being written. Funny, tenderhearted and horrifying, often all at once, it refashions the rudiments of the coming-of-age novel into something completely original.Mitchell's first novel, "Ghostwritten," was an immediate hit when it was published two years ago. Shortlisted for England's Booker Prize, it drew raves from the likes of novelist A. S. Byatt and The New York Times, which listed it as one of the best books of 2000. The new novel proves that debut was no...
  • Ask Jeeves All About Him

    Several years ago, in the course of interviewing the author Frank McCourt, I asked him to name some of his favorite writers. One of those he mentioned was P. G. Wodehouse, and when it came out that I had never read a word of Wodehouse, he said, "Ohhh," which I took to mean that I'd somehow failed a test. ...
  • A Recipe For Fighting Terror

    In the first lines of "The Lessons of Terror," Caleb Carr comes out roaring: "To be emblematic of our age is to bear an evil burden. The 20th century, scarcely finished, will be remembered as much for its succession of wars and genocides as it will for anything else," and thereafter he rarely strays from that Hobbesian note. In a book inspired by the events of September 11, he defines terrorism as "warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable." Al Qaeda's actions fit that description, but so, Carr argues, does the Allied bombing of Tokyo and Dresden in World War II. And, he believes, it's wrong in either case. "The Lessons of Terror" is a pungent, opinionated history of terrorism, but more than that it is a critique of wars fought the wrong way. ...
  • Our Hippest Literary Lion

    I still remember the extraordinary rush of liberation I felt as a teenager after reading Mark Twain's terse "Notice" at the beginning of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn": "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Before this, I labored under the impression that a book, to be any good, had to cough up the secret of life, or something close. But here was an author telling me, or at least implying, that if a book delivers a good story, that ought to be enough. It took another 10 years before I began to suspect that maybe he was kidding about this, too. ...
  • A Winning Look At Defeat

    Alexandra Fuller grew up in Africa on the losing side. She was a little girl in the '70s in what was then Rhodesia. Her parents, white English emigre farmers, supported white rule in the middle of a revolution that went the other way. Oh, and they weren't just any sort of farmers. They grew tobacco. While British colonialism crumbled around them ("servants in white uniforms, stiff with desperate civilization"), the family struggled to keep a farm going and struggled even harder to maintain the pretense that their way of life was the right way, that everything was normal. Convoying into town with other whites (safety in numbers against guerrillas), dodging land mines all the way, the parents encouraged the children to sing. But what they sang bore little resemblance to normal children's car-trip songs: "One hundred baboons playing on a minefield. And if one baboon should accidentally explode, there'll be ninety-nine baboons playing on a minefield." ...
  • Author! Author!

    Since September 11, Americans have tried to get on with their lives in one fashion or another. I don't know how other people managed it, if they have, but speaking for myself, it hasn't been easy. ...
  • Coppola's Classic

    As a more observant fan could have told you long ago, oranges are everywhere in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece. Don Corleone is buying oranges when he gets shot in Little Italy. There are oranges on the table in the boardroom scene where the five New York "families" make the peace after Sonny is shot on the causeway. And everyone remembers the scene when the Don, moments before his fatal heart attack, tries to amuse his grandson by putting an orange peel in his mouth and pretending to be a monster. Oranges, bright as light bulbs in this umber-toned movie, should be symbols of life. Instead, they almost always act as harbingers of death. Coppola picks up this idea in "Godfather II" when Johnny Ola brings Michael Corleone an orange from Hyman Roth, "our friend in Miami," who in fact wants to kill Michael, but then almost everything in the second movie is a variation on events in the first one. (Everything in "Godfather III" is a variation, too, but by then the variations just seem...
  • Blending Fact With Fiction

    In "Austerlitz," W. G. Sebald performs a small but significant miracle: he wrests the Holocaust out of the clutches of stale cliche. He does this without ever showing us a death camp or a gas chamber. Instead, this superb novel concentrates on the wreckage of one man's life. Orphaned as a young boy during the Nazi occupation of Prague, Jacques Austerlitz devotes the rest of his life to finding out who he really is and what happened to his parents, and all the while he is haunted by the feeling that he is living a borrowed life. Chronicling this strange odyssey, Sebald shows us, much as he did in "The Emigrants," a previous masterpiece on the same theme, that the horrors of mid-20th-century Europe have no expiration date.In four genre-bending works of fiction published in the past decade, the 57-year-old Sebald has established himself as one of Europe's most distinctive authors, and certainly its most idiosyncratic. Two of his "novels" are collections of interrelated stories. All of...
  • Books: Outside The Box

    In four genre-bending works of fiction--"Vertigo," "The Emigrants," "The Rings of Saturn" and "Austerlitz"--published in the last decade, 57-year-old W. G. Sebald has established himself as one of Europe's most distinctive authors and certainly its most idiosyncratic. Two of his "novels" are collections of interrelated stories. All of them are narrated in a memoir style by a writer who at least superficially resembles Sebald who, born and raised in Germany, has spent his adult life as a literature professor in England (he continues to write in German). And all are generously salted with grainy black-and-white photographs, and maps, floorplans and railroad timetables that mysteriously both add to and subtract from the idea that these stories are pretending to be factual.Reading a Sebald book is like nothing else. Confronted with his strange, intoxicating brew of fact and fiction and digressions on everything from European train stations to the lives and times of certain moths, you...
  • Literature: A Voice For Dire Times

    Literary oddsmakers were caught short last week with the announcement that V. S. Naipaul had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sir Vidia has long been thought unofficially ineligible, not least because of the rudeness and thorough-going political incorrectness of his opinions. He despises colonialism and its aftermath. But he also sneers at the formerly colonized. Islam, he recently informed the world, is beneath contempt--but then, so is every other religion. In books, articles and interviews, he has managed to belittle or insult every culture under the sun, including that of his adopted England. Dour, pessimistic, a child of the Third World but truly at home no-where, Naipaul seems an odd candidate for the Nobel. This year, however, he's a natural.What makes Naipaul such a challenge for both his fans and his detractors is that this 67-year-old author's opinions would not carry the weight they do were he not such a fearsome writer. Reviewing the latest Naipaul novel, "Half a Life,...
  • Why Sir Vidia Won

    Literary oddsmakers were caught short this week with the announcement that V.S. Naipaul had won the Nobel prize for literature. Sir Vidia has long been thought at least unofficially ineligible, not because he isn't talented; his talent has never been in dispute. But neither has the rudeness and thoroughgoing political incorrectness of his opinions.He despises colonialism and its aftermath. But he also sneers at the formerly colonized. Islam, he recently informed the world, is beneath contempt--but then, so is every other religion. Never say that Naipaul is not an equal-opportunity offender.In books, articles and interviews, he has managed to belittle or insult nearly every culture under the sun, including that of his adopted England. He has jeered at every writer of stature still living and quite a few long dead. He even managed, in a book charting the correspondence between himself as a student and budding author in England and his father, a journalist and an amateur author back in...
  • What To Read Now

    Since Sept. 11, there have been numerous announcements of "instant" or quickie books related to the bombings at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Random House plans to publish a history of terrorism by Caleb Carr in November. Dennis Smith, the fireman who wrote the classic book, "Report From Engine Co. 82," has been at ground zero since the first day, working on a book about the rescue operation.The book publisher PublicAffairs plans to join with the journal Foreign Affairs to commission an anthology, also due in November, with the title "How Did This Happen?" with contributors including Fouad Ajami, Alan Wolfe, Gen. Wesley Clark and NEWSWEEK International Editor Fareed Zakaria. But as Amazon's best-seller list has been telling us for two weeks, people want information now. To that end, here's a suggested reading list, in no particular order, on various aspects of the catastrophe, from germ warfare to the intricacies of Taliban politics.Karen Armstrong, "Islam" (Modern...
  • Books: The Emperor's New Prada?

    Reading Jonathan Franzen's much ballyhooed new novel, "The Corrections," turns out to be a lot like those long holiday weekends where you go home with your college roommate and then sit around watching his family fight the whole time. You're embarrassed, offended, bored and claustrophobic--you can't go anywhere unless they take you, you can do only what they want to do. You're happy only when it's over.In Franzen's defense, this is not an accident. He never says "Come meet the Lamberts, elderly Alfred and Enid and their grown kids, Gary, Chip and Denise, and we'll have fun." Fun is not part of the Franzen program. He is a Serious Novelist with Big Themes in his sights. This is a novel about Family, about Baby Boomers and Materialism, about Dying and Becoming Your Parents' Parents. Oh, and about looking for pharmacological solutions in all the wrong places.The book's motor is chirpy, manipulative Enid's desire that all the Lamberts come back for one last Christmas at the family home...
  • The Hard Sell

    In the middle of a 20-city book tour, E. Lynn Harris is getting just a mite frayed. At the Shrine of the Black Madonna bookstore in Atlanta, he has read from his new best seller, "Any Way the Wind Blows," his seventh novel full of racy bisexual romance. He has answered questions from the 300 adoring fans, some from as far away as Alabama and North Carolina. Now he is signing books, and he lays down a few ground rules for the customers who hold copies not just of the new book but of his previous novels as well. "I will sign all of your books," he says, "but I'll only put your name in one, you decide which one. And don't expect anything deep. I'm on tour, so I'm brain-dead. I'll do good if I get your name right."In the three days Harris spends in Atlanta in early August, he seems to be everywhere at once--up at 6 to make appearances on morning radio and television shows, reading and signing books at auditoriums and bookstores and then hitting more bookstores to visit with store...
  • Instant Education

    One morning in July 1898, when he was just 20 months old, Buster Keaton got his right index finger crushed when he stuck his hand in a clothes wringer out back of the boardinghouse where he was staying with his parents, who were vaudeville troupers. The local doctor took the finger off at the first joint, and Buster cried himself to sleep. When he woke up, he went back outside and started trying to knock a peach out of a tree with a rock. Instead, the rock hit him on the head, and it was back to the doc for three stitches in his scalp. That night he stayed inside, but it didn't do any good. While he stood watching a tornado from a second-story window, the wind suddenly scooped him up and blew him more than a city block before a man snatched him to safety. It was around that time that Buster's parents decided to incorporate him into their act, reasoning that he would be safer on stage where they could keep an eye on him.That would be a horrifying story about almost any other baby,...
  • John Lee Hooker

    John Lee Hooker's first instrument was a set of "strings" made from strips of inner tube nailed to a barn wall. From there he soon graduated to a guitar, but the rawness--and the ingenuity--of that first instrument remained a part of this bluesman's music all his life. Hooker, who died last Thursday at 83, was a blues star for more than half a century. He had his first million-selling single, "Boogie Chillen," in 1948, and he was winning Grammys well into his 70s. But his success as a performer was equaled if not outshone by his influence as an artist, especially on younger rock musicians. Echoes of his gritty, syncopated singing and playing can be heard in younger musicians as diverse as ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt and Los Lobos. But none of them could ever quite match his singular sound. Easy to copy, the Hooker style was all but impossible to duplicate.One of 11 children, Hooker grew up in a sharecropping family on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. By the time he turned 14...