Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wambaugh is back with 'Harbor Nocturne'

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The harbor of San Pedro is familiar to me, as a sailor and Californian of many years.

But Joseph Wambaugh shows a seedy side to the area that I don't remember from my visits there, though I suspect through his former cop's eyes, it's accurate.

'Harbor Nocture' is a classic Wambaugh book, as good as much of his early work that had his books flying off the shelf. I admit to taking a hiatus from anything Wambaugh for the last few years. The books for a period lacked the snap of some earlier works.

Having just finished Harbor Nocture, I will have to get back to the library stacks and see when he re-emerged with his old voice.

I just may have missed some good books.

Harbor Nocture has some dark moments and some very funny moments. And it has one particularly tragic moment. For that, you will need to read it.

The plot revolves around crime, redemption, drugs and power, with the interplay of Italian and Croatian cultures. Do you need to know anymore?

For local folks, Harbor Nocturne is available on the shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The End of Country is near for Pennsylvania

VALOIS, New York, USA - Seamus McGraw's 2011 book The End of Country takes a very literary look at what has happened - and is happening - to Pennsylvania's rural countryside and towns as natural gas companies have taken over and begun their destructive 'hydrofracking' process.

I say literary, because in many parts, this tome reads as smoothly as a novel, even though like any novel dealing with uncomfortable material, it is hard read in spots.

What McGraw is able to do effectively in this book isn't just to show what greedy bastards (and liars, oh the lies) the people representing these environmental destruction teams are. He also shows how the many thousands of dollars dangled in front of very poor people changed the people themselves, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

And in the end, it's obvious that though some people are richer in dollars, the entire communities are much poorer for allowing this earth-destroying technology on their land.

McGraw's book is an important one, well worth reading. And if Hollywood has any cojones, it would make the basis for an excellent movie script. It's a real life thriller with all the elements of a good film: danger, big money, greed, tragedy and a small dose of triumph.

There's even the death of beloved dog - at the hands of the gas company doing drilling on the land of one of the main characters.

On the cover of the book, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote: "Deeply personal, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, The End of Country lays out the promise and the perils faced not just by the people of one small Pennsylvania town but by our whole nation."

Monday, August 06, 2012

Under the Surface: The ugliness of hydrofracking

WATKINS GLEN, New York - "Under The Surface: Fracking, Fortunes and the fate of Marcellus Shale" is an important book coming out at a critical time in New York.

Within weeks, it's possible the governor of New York will give the green light to limited hydrofracking for natural gas in a handful of Southern New York townships.

If he does, and the drilling starts, the state will be in for the same kind of environmental and health disaster that goes by the name Pennsylvania.

Journalist-Author Tom Wilber does a good job of walking through the history of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, telling the story in chronological style and sometimes in almost maddening detail.

But that same maddening detail also paints a complete picture, which most observers don't have and can't have because the incidents of toxic chemical spills, poisoned water wells, gas well blowouts - even deaths - are scattered about the state and rarely make huge headlines.

Yet when taken together, the indictment of the hydrofracking process - and the companies doing the work - is overwhelming.

Wilber's book makes it clear that hydrofracking for natural gas is not safe and probably cannot be done safely, not matter how loudly proponents shout.

Author Tom Wilber
One criticism of the book will likely be that Wilber lets the gas companies off the hook a little lightly in spots - a holdover from his days as an objective news reporter in New York State. His fairness doesn't obscure the incredible damage that has been done, however. It might give the book more credibility with people still on the fence about hydrofracking.

He clearly shows through interviews, data, and observation that property values have gone to near zero in many places, how greedy (and willing to lie) gas corporations seem to be and outlines the often bumbling efforts of Pennsylvania regulators and other key players to handle the all-too-slick, slick-water hydrofracking companies.

The most depresssing news in the book is that all the problems are getting even worse since the change of administrations in Pennsylvia.

"Under the Surface" was published in 2012 by the Cornell University Press.

It should be read soon, in case NY Governor Andrew Cuomo decides he needs gas company money for his planned 2016 campaign for President of the U.S.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Along The Way: a thought-provoking memoir

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Northern Spain - Father-son books litter the shelves of libraries and bookstores, some good, some, well, some best left on family coffee tables.

But Along The Way, The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez is a book worthy of any library or bookstore.

It's even worth buying to read if your local librarian can't afford it.

Along The Way spins off the movie made by Sheen and Estevez called The Way.

The movie is good. And now that I have read the book, I will probably watch it again, knowing more about the some of the background.

The book is not about the making of the movie solely, but about Martin Sheen - whose real name is Ramon Estevez - and his son's lives, both where they are intertwined and separately. Sheen's early life and choice of an acting career was very much at odds with that his father (a Galacian immigrant) and mother (an Irishwoman) would have chosen for him.

And while I have always thought of Estevez as the young guy from Repo Man, he's an accomplished director and as complex as his far-better-known father.

The book alternates chapters between the two men, with Sheen holding the advantage when it comes to philosophical comments, Estevez about the movie business.

Though it is uneven in spots, Along the Way is an excellent read - especially for fathers and sons.

Here's are two brief excerpts from Martin Sheen's final chapter:

"There is an old saying: If you arrive at the Kingdom alone, you must answer one question,
 'Where are the others?'
We are made so that we must travel alone, yet we cannot do so without community."

"The Irish tell a story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and asks to be let in.
'Of course,' Saint Peter says. 'Just show us your scars.'
'I have no scars,' the man replies,
'What a pity,' Saint Peter says. 'Was there nothing worth fighting for?'