Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • 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...
  • Arts Extra: Books: Mitchell Remembered

    Whenever I am feeling overworked or put-upon or whenever I just need a kick in the pants, I walk over to the bookshelf and pull down my battered copy of "My Ears Are Bent" by Joseph Mitchell, and I reread the following passage in which he describes a reporter's day on a New York daily newspaper in the 1930s."In a newspaper office no day is typical, but I will describe one day no more incoherent than a hundred others. When I came in one morning at 9 I was assigned to find and interview an Italian bricklayer who resembled the Prince of Wales; someone telephoned that he had been offered a job in Hollywood. I tracked him to the cellar of a matzoth bakery on the East Side, where he was repairing an oven. I got into a fight with the man who ran the bakery; he thought I was an inspector from the Health Department. I finally got to the bricklayer and he would not talk much about himself but kept saying, 'I'm afraid I get sued.' I went back to my office and wrote that story and then I was...
  • Whitehead Hammers Out A Hit

    About 90 pages into "John Henry Days," Colson Whitehead tips his hand: this is going to be a big--as in epic--novel. Up to this point, we know this is a book about a 1996 West Virginia folk festival celebrating a new stamp in the Postal Service's "Folk Hero" series. We know we're going back and forth between the mythic story of John Henry's digging a tunnel through a mountain in 1872 and the modern story, which is all about press agentry and spin and a black freelance journalist named J. Sutter who's struggling to beat the record for the most consecutive days on the freebie junketeering gravy train. Whitehead ("The Intuitionist") wants us to see that while the tunnel killed John Henry, it made him immortal. But it's the all-devouring maw of pop culture that's destroying J. Sutter's soul. ...
  • Notes From The Underground

    Haruki Murakami has brought flowers to the Kasumigaseki subway station. Located in the heart of Tokyo's government district, this is one of the city's busiest stations. But what strikes a Westerner accustomed to the jostling chaos of American subways is the almost surreal orderliness of the place. People queue up at appointed places. Trains arrive at precisely scheduled times a few minutes apart. Uniformed attendants are posted throughout the gleaming, well-lit station--a dependable oasis of rational order in the hectic urban whirlwind that is modern Tokyo. So you can imagine the terror that broke out on March 20, 1995, when members of Aum Shinrikyo, an extremist religious cult, uncorked enough deadly sarin gas in the subway system to injure 5,000 people and kill 12. Two of the dead were station attendants at Kasumigaseki, and it is in their memory that Murakami has brought flowers. "The anniversary was last week," he says apologetically, "but I want to honor them." ...
  • Arts Extra: Bedtime Stories

    I keep promising myself that I'll give up Raymond Chandler. But every time I think I'm on the wagon for good, I'll be standing in front of the bookshelf, looking around for a chair so I can reach that unthumbed copy of Proust, and my hand will just sort of reach out on its own and pull down "The Little Sister" or "The Long Goodbye," and there I'll be, back in 1940s Los Angeles with Philip Marlowe in his dusty office, waiting for Orfamay Quest or Terry Lennox to come through the door for about the 45th time. ...
  • Arts Extra:Being Robert Mitchum

    I remember the first time I saw a picture of Robert Mitchum. I don't know exactly how old I was, but old enough to read, because I was already wasting a lot of time poring over the ads for movies in the local paper. This took a lot longer than it might have, since the medium-size Southern city where I lived had only three movie theaters. But it had at least that many drive-ins, too, and the drive-ins changed their fare a couple of times a week and showed at least two movies every night. ...
  • Homework From Hogwarts: Harry Potter Returns

    J. K. Rowling sounded a mite pious recently when she announced the two new books she wrote to raise money for Britain's Comic Relief, a charity aiding children in developing countries. "You should buy these books because they will save lives," she announced loftily. Then again, she couldn't very well say, "Buy 'em because I'm talented." "Quidditch Through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" are purported texts from the library at Hogwarts, the school for wizards attended by Harry Potter. Unlike all the other Harry tie-in merchandise, which just isn't much fun, these amusing, imaginative little paperbacks (Scholastic) are required reading for all Potter fans.
  • Neck And Neck With Glory

    It is almost impossible for anyone who didn't live through it to comprehend the world Laura Hillenbrand describes so vividly in "Seabiscuit," her fascinating account of the greatest Cinderella story in the history of horse racing. Before World War II thoroughbred racing captured the American public's imagination with such ferocity that it was not unheard-of for 40 million people to tune in a race on the radio. In 1938, at the height of his fame, Seabiscuit garnered more column inches in the newspapers than either Roosevelt or Hitler. And yet today you would be hard pressed to find anyone under 50 who had a clue what all the fuss was about. ...
  • All Starch, No Cheese

    It sounds like the plot of a made-for-TV movie: psychologist Tom Seymour jumps in the river to save a suicide from drowning. The rescued party turns out to be Danny Miller, a convicted murderer, out on parole. And as anyone familiar with how these stories work will guess, it was Seymour's testimony that provided the tipping point in Miller's trial. One more thing: when he was tried, Miller was only 10 years old, and accused of killing an old woman, a charge he adamantly denied. So, is it mere coincidence that the two encounter each other this way? Is Miller stalking the psychologist? If "Border Crossing" were your average melodrama, such questions would be answered straightaway. But Pat Barker, author of the acclaimed World War I "Regeneration" trilogy, is not a simple writer. When it comes to narrative cliches, she's like a kid with a chemistry set and a mad glint in her eye. Right when you think you know where things are heading, she'll twist things in a completely different...
  • Emerald In The Rough

    Irish author Nuala O'Faolain gets flustered when you ask her age--she'll admit to "late 50s." She worries about growing old alone. "Until I got Molly," her sheepdog, "I had no idea how to grow old. She's a genuine alternative to the loving-spouse route." And, of course, she worries about her looks. Pondering her upcoming U.S. book tour to promote her first novel, "My Dream of You," she frets, "I'll age 10 years and still not lose any weight." But the woman's got guts. It's her idea to take the reporter along to her appointment for a color job at a Manhattan hairdresser. "Let's face it," she says airily. "The lady's got gray hair."It's this same disarming, almost goofy combination of vulnerability, self-doubt and canny shrewdness that distinguish-es her books, first her 1998 best-selling memoir, "Are You Somebody?" and now this novel. Both books feature middle-aged women as their protagonists. And both are full of brilliant writing and heartbreaking insight. When Kathleen, the...
  • Mean Street Makeover

    Crime novelist Dennis Lehane is totally awed by fellow fiction writers who do research. Just don't ask him to imitate them. "When I write a book, I'll call around and ask about stuff I think I may have gotten wrong. My brother-in-law's a cop, and I ask him a lot of stupid questions. But then I read guys like Mike Connelly and think, damn, this guy really did his homework." Chuckling, he adds, "Then there's me over here going, um, yeah, that floats."Lehane is laughing, but he's not kidding. It's his stories he obsesses over, not facts. So when he gives you a windshield tour of working-class Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood that supplies the turf of his six crime novels (not to mention the turf of his own childhood), the 35-year-old author makes it clear that the Dorchester in his books is not on any map. "This isn't sociology," he says. "That's not a writer's job. You try to do a representation of a feeling, the character of a place."Nobody does that better than he does. He's got...
  • Dark Tale

    Four years after publishing "Underworld," his huge--and hugely ambitious--novel about cold-war America, Don DeLillo delivers "The Body Artist," a novel so slim that its 124 pages could be one of "Underworld's" chapters. But length aside, there's nothing slight about this unsettling tale of a woman contending with the fact of her husband's suicide. In this book nothing is certain, and almost every sentence amends or rewrites the one before: "He was staring at her. He seemed to be staring, but probably wasn't." The world goes all wobbly in this book, just as it does whenever we come face to face with mortality.DeLillo makes sure we never find our footing. After spending 20 pages on a couple breakfasting in a rented summer cottage, he gut-punches us with an obituary--his way of telling us that the man we just met over breakfast has killed himself. The rest of the story belongs to Lauren, the wife, a performance artist who shape-shifts into other characters. Alone in the vacation house,...
  • When E Stands For Eek

    If you want a progress report on the current fortunes of the e-book, you could do no better than the International eBook Awards, which were announced Oct. 20 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. And the winners were--drumroll, please--on second thought, hold that drumroll. Because it turns out the winners were just regular paper-and-ink, hardbound books. Which, yes, come in an e-book format, too. That's how they qualified for the awards. But there's nothing particularly e-bookish about either David Maraniss's "When Pride Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi" or E. M. Schorb's novel "Paradise Square." Upset by the high pulp content of the contest, at least one of the contest judges vocalized his dismay: Stewart Brand, who is also the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, called the whole affair "somewhere between a joke and a debacle."Dick Brass tried to put a good face on it by saying that the purpose of the awards was to gain attention for e-books--and in that, at least, they succeeded. Brass...
  • Tom Wolfe, Ace Reporter

    In the only article written expressly for his new nonfiction collection--his first since 1976--Tom Wolfe decries the lazy, navel-gazing ways of contemporary novelists in a piece called "My Three Stooges." The trio in question--Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving--all slammed Wolfe's latest novel, "A Man in Full." Wolfe claims he's merely calling them stooges in the theatrical sense of a "straight man who feeds lines to the lead actor in a play." But in fact, he doesn't seem very interested in attacking his critics (a slur here and there, nothing serious). Instead, he uses their criticism as an excuse to reopen his attack on modern literature's inbred estheticism. For years--decades!--Wolfe has been quarreling with America's literary establishment (read: novelists who don't write exhaustively researched realist fiction like his). And the more he carries on, the more you suspect that his gripe isn't with certain kinds of fiction writers but with fiction writers generally....
  • Defrosting A Lost Tale Of Daring On The Arctic Ic

    Just what the world needs: another book about an arctic disaster. That's the way author and editor David Roberts felt four years ago when a French publisher urged him to seek out a 1914 account, "In the Land of White Death" by Valerian Albanov. Roberts was skeptical. "I'd never heard of this book, and I know the polar literature pretty well," says the author of "The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest." Jon Krakauer felt the same way when his old friend (and old college prof and climbing buddy) Roberts started dogging him to read it, too. "I just thought, 'Oh yeah, one more f---ing thing I have to read'," says the author of "Into Thin Air." That is the last even vaguely negative word you will hear Roberts or Krakauer say about "In the Land of White Death," a book that, once they read it, both agreed was an undiscovered classic and a masterpiece.After Krakauer read Albanov's slim book at one sitting, he couldn't sleep, and he wound up e-mailing his publishers at 3 a.m.,...
  • Pullman's Progress

    Synopsis doesn't do Philip Pullman justice. His best-known books, a trilogy called "His Dark Materials," are classified as fantasy and sold as fiction for young-adult readers. Like "Harry Potter" creator J. K. Rowling, this author invents a world filled with strange divinations and wordplays. In "His Dark Materials," there are tiny creatures called Gallivespians and horrible monsters called cliffghasts. There are instruments and devices with weird names like alethiometer and intention craft. The hero and heroine are 12-year-olds on a quest to save the world. Only they don't know it. And on top of all that, the author is working out an argument with organized religion that goes all the way back to the Fall and the Garden of Eden. In short, Pullman is quite possibly a genius, but he is certainly tough to sell.Try pushing his novels on teenagers, and they roll their eyes and complain that those books look long, and the print's too small and the covers make them look like little-kids'...
  • Bobby Socks, Hard Knocks

    When "The Liars' Club" appeared in 1995, it left no doubt that Mary Karr could flat-out write. Her memoir of growing up in an east Texas oil town told tales of sexual abuse and near death at the hands of her own mother. It was also sidesplittingly funny and so ably crafted that it won the hearts of critics and readers alike, spending 59 weeks on the best-seller list. The one question everyone had upon finishing her story was, could she do it again? "Cherry," the eagerly awaited sequel, lays that question to rest once and for all. In some ways, it's a better book. "The Liars' Club" dwelt on the oddities of a--by any yardstick--bizarre childhood. "Cherry," opening with little Mary on the cusp of adolescence, explores the terrors of sex, drugs and rock and roll familiar to every teen. It never lacks for those trademark Karr details, but it's about all of us.The person who most seriously doubted she would ever pull it off was Karr herself. "I probably threw away 500 pages before I...
  • Mr. Relativity's Last Road Trip

    How's this for an urban legend? Dr. Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who performs the autopsy on Albert Einstein, removes the Nobel laureate's brain and takes it home and keeps it, pickled in a jar, for 40 years. Then he decides--he's 84 now--that he wants to meet Einstein's granddaughter. This means motoring from New Jersey to California with the brain sloshing around in a plastic container stowed in the trunk. And here's the weirdest thing about this tale: it's all true. Luckily for journalist Michael Paterniti, who'd tracked Harvey down, he just happened to be there when Harvey needed a chauffeur on that trip. He's there in Lawrence, Kans., to witness Harvey's reunion with his old acquaintance, author William Burroughs. He accompanies Harvey on a museum tour at Los Alamos. And at every stoplight, Paterniti has to fight the urge to scream, "We have Einstein's brain in the trunk!"Paterniti spends a lot of time pondering the riddle of Einstein--why do we like our geniuses part nutty...
  • Why Harry's Hot

    With The Sweep Of A Wand, 'Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire,' The Fourth Book In J.K. Rowling's Magical Series Is The Fastest-Selling Title--Of Any Kind--In History. Behind The Frenzy And The More Enduring Question Of What Makes A Classic.