Recent Reads – July 2017

Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir – Joyce Johnson

There’s an odd paradox inherent to this book. Its purpose is to give voice to the women of the Beat Generation, minor characters who “fell very quickly, believing they would take us along on their journeys and adventures,” and who were then callously, sometimes tragically discarded. (The death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs early in the book is heartbreaking.) But I’d guess most people who pick up this book are mainly interested in the author’s recollections of Jack Kerouac, whose picture is on the cover (partially obscuring the author), and not in Johnson’s own life. I certainly had never heard of her. But wow, she can write! Her prose is so beguiling, before you know it she’s told you the story of her childhood, growing up as a member of the Silent Generation who wanted to have their voice heard, to speak up and step out. Yes, the ghost of Jack Kerouac haunts this book, as does a close friend who committed suicide. It was published fourteen years after Kerouac died, and over a quarter decade after he and Johnson briefly dated. Johnson elegantly jumps back and forth in time, showing them alive in one moment and dead the next. The effect is strangely elegiac, folding the tragic future into the tumultuous past, and making it seems as if these characters were both dead and alive all along. Which in a way they were. Johnson writes: “I remember Jack once saying he wrote his books so that he’d have something to read in his old age — although of course he never had any and maybe never believed he would.” That’s heady stuff. Highly recommended.

The Chronoliths – Robert Charles Wilson

It hurts me to rate this book so low because I love Wilson’s Spin and generally love the kind of science fiction he writes: his books mostly take place on Earth and feature believable characters swept up in world-changing events. But while The Chronoliths presents a fascinating idea, the book failed to excite or connect with me in any way. Halfway through I actually took an extended reading break; not consciously, but simply because I was lured away by more enticing reading. The characters have the usual depth I’ve come to expect from Wilson, but they’re… boring and not very likable. After the Chronoliths start appearing, the world collapses in a kind of halfhearted way. Food shortages. Roving bandits. Rape. Pillaging. Yawn. What happens to the characters is just as trite. Mostly they just have dinner or phone conversations and more dinner and more phone conversations. And finally the story just fizzles out… There is no big reveal, no surprising twist, no deeper meaning; in short, no point.

The Monster of Florence – Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi

Douglas Preston, being a thriller writer, admits that books need a bad guy with clear motives and a neat ending. The Monster of Florence has none of these. Still, it’s thrilling reading. I spent a year in Florence in the early 2000s, and Preston’s rich descriptions of the place made me long to go back — despite the lurid subject matter of the book.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

This book is a blast. Its 700+ pages intimidated me at first (I have two young kids and very littlereading time) but once I started, I couldn’t stop. I reviewed this book for NRC.

Recent Reads – June 2017

 

The Dead Zone – Stephen King

This was a strange one for me to reread. I remembered it being about a man who, following a car crash, develops second sight and plots to assassinate a presidential hopeful intent on setting off a nuclear war. But this doesn’t happen until the very end of the book. Most of The Dead Zone is concerned with Johnny Smith (either King was having a bad character-naming day or this guy is supposed to be an everyman) trying to cope with his new gift. Special gifts, in King’s universe, are rarely to be envied — think Carrie, Firestarter, Dr Sleep, or Duma Key for instance — and the same goes for Johnny. “The Bible says God loves all his creatures,” he remarks at some point before being told, “Got a funny way of showing it, doesn’t he?” He loses his girl, his friends, his job, he’s ridiculed in the media and shunned in the town where he lives. What’s remarkable is how readable all this is. Or maybe it’s not remarkable at all, since King is a hell of a writer, and this is one of his earlier books that doesn’t yet suffer from the bloat that became his signature later. It does contain some other classic King elements: a doomed love affair, religious maniacs, a sexual deviant with a sexually repressive childhood, references to his own work (Carrie is name-checked), and of course many of the characters speak in clever, down-homey colloquialisms. All in all, a fine read. I listened to the audio version narrated by James Franco, who did a great job, especially with the Polish (?) doctor.

Gone Baby Gone – Dennis Lehane

This is classic Lehane. A breakneck plot, believable characters, razor-sharp writing. But as a parent, I found this a wrenching read. First I was tortured with the question of what I’d do if one of my kids went missing, and then by the reality of what happens to missing kids. Be prepared to have your heart pierced and your stomach turned. Still, this is probably my favorite Lehane at this point, after Live by Nightand World Gone By.

Recent Reads – May 2017

Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane is such a smooth, supple writer. He gives his characters real depth without ever slowing down his stories, and he’s a master plotter. But this new book didn’t do it for me. It starts off as one thing, then becomes something else entirely, and this “something else” was where Lehane lost me. Both the plot and the characters became increasingly ridiculous, and what seemed like an unsolvable situation turned out to be, well…

Gwendy’s Button Box – Stephen King and Richard Chimer

Stephen King has been in top form in recent years. 11/22/63 and Duma Key are two of his best novels in my opinion. But he’s also cranking out books at a rate he last managed in the 70s and 80s, when he was half a century younger and out of his mind on coke and booze. Consider this: he spent fifteen years on the first four parts of The Dark Tower only to finish the last three in a year. He’s been clearing out his drawers (Under the Dome, Blaze) and writing sequels (Doctor Sleep, the forthcoming Talisman book) and filling gaps in his oeuvre (The Wind through the Keyhole). Add to that the many comic books and film adaptations and TV shows (Haven, Under the Dome, The Mist) of his work, and you might feel King is everywhere.

No wonder, then, that not everything he does is a success. With Gwendy’s Button Box, he’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Apparently, he’d written 7,000 words and didn’t know how to go on, so he enlisted the help of fellow horror writer Richard Chizmar. You’d think that 7,000 words is no big loss for King, who reportedly produces 2,000 words a day, and he’d been better off just discarding this story altogether. It’s a vapid piece of writing. Neither the characters or the plot are remarkable in any sort of way. A big deal is made of the fact that this is a Castle Rock story — Castle Rock being the site of some of King’s best works — but really, the place is only mentioned a few times without serving an actual purpose. Reference is made to “The Monkey’s Paw,” one of King’s favorite stories, but in actuality Gwendy is more akin to Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button,” also a favorite of King’s. But whereas that story was only one or two pages long, Gwendy stretches to well over a hundred. There is lots of setup and very little payoff. In the end, the story just kind of… fades out.

But King is a money-making machine, and Gwendy will sell and get positive reviews and do nothing to stop the world, myself included, from awaiting King’s next book, Sleeping Beauties, written with his son Owen and to be published later this year.

The Door into Summer – Robert Heinlein

This was a quick, fun read: a time-travel revenge story with a clever plot, breakneck pacing, and a likable grump for a main character. Oh, and an awesome cat.

Recent Reads – April 2017

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Phew! What a long, strange trip it’s been. I read this book simultaneously on audio (read by the amazing Will Patton) and paper. I finished the audiobook first and then kept going with the actual book, underlining favorite passages etc. By the time I was done, I was exhausted. Exhausted of traveling back and forth across the American continent with Sal Paradise and his helpless, hopeless friend Dean Moriarty. And I think this was the point. Hidden beneath their euphoric, madcap adventures there is a great sadness, as there was to the whole Beat generation. These “boys and girls in America” lived hard and burned out fast. Something about their wild search for spiritual and sexual liberation, and their rejection of materialism, simply didn’t hold. Both Neal Cassady (the real-life Dean Moriarty) and Jack Kerouac (Sal Paradise) drowned themselves in drugs and alcohol, dying young. But for the short time they were here, they burned “like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'” And there you have it: Kerouac wrote some truly transcendent prose, and I’m looking forward to reading The Dharma Bums and Big Sur next.

Big Fish – Daniel Wallace

This book reminded me of W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe in several ways. Both are big-hearted books about family; both are set in a down-homey, rosy-eyed version of the South where life is one big peach cobbler and no one’s ever heard of racism or poverty; and both books were turned into movies I loved long before I read the source material.

Of the two, Shoeless Joe is my favorite. It’s just a heartwarming book. It’s a nice warm blanket, a big warm hug of a book. Kinsella writes somewhere: “Moonlight butters the whole Iowa night.” Butters! It’s that kind of book.

Big Fish, in contrast, feels sterile. It’s barely a book, but more a collection of vignettes, lacking the warmth and catharsis of the movie, and only hinting at the complicated and ultimately heartbreaking father-and-son relationship that made me fall in love with the movie. The stories themselves are still funny, clever, enchanting, and very much worth reading. But this is one of those rare examples where a movie managed to take a central idea from the source material and expand on it and thereby make it better and more cohesive.

Jailbird – Kurt Vonnegut

This is the most straightforward Vonnegut book I’ve read so far and also the longest, but it was still very good, very funny, and very bizarre in that unique Vonnegut way.

Thoughts on Paul Auster’s 4321

“Auster’s first novel in seven years,” the cover of 4321 proudly states, though for me this is the first Paul Auster I’ve read since 2003’s Oracle Night. I tried but could not finish The Brooklyn Follies, Man in the Dark, or Invisible, and didn’t even pick up the other two books he published in the last 14 years. They did not contain that “Auster magic,” had nothing new to tell me; in fact, they felt stale and contrived and I decided that either Auster had lost his touch or I had lost my taste for his work, which meant I was afraid to reread my earlier favorites of his – The New York Trilogy, Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, The Book of Illusions – because I didn’t want to spoil my memory of them if it turned out the fault was really mine, not Auster’s.

Then along came 4321, a book so big and ambitious I had to give it a shot. And lo and behold, I finished the darn thing, and I loved it. Almost without reserve. An 800-page behemoth telling four overlapping versions of the same life? Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Auster makes it work. During the two months it took me to read this book, I kept worrying I’d stop caring or get bored or simply become overwhelmed and give up, but my attention never waned. (Part of that may be the fact that once I get past a certain point with big books, I become determined to finish them; the progress I make becomes as pleasing to me as the story itself; whereas I have no problem casting aside shorter books.)

Could this book have been shorter? Sure. Could there have been a little less Vietnam and other political talk in the last 200 pages? Sure, but politics tend to bore me anyway, so again this is my fault, not Auster’s.

Why did I like this book so much? The main character is not a particularly exciting individual, and what happens to him, retold in four different versions, also isn’t ground-shaking. Archie Ferguson grows up in New York; falls in and out of love; falls in and out of touch with his parents depending on which version of his life you’re reading; has lots of sex; and grows up to be a writer/poet/journalist. The reasons I stuck with the book were:

  1. Auster can be a great storyteller and here he’s in top form, spinning yarns that are funny, heartbreaking, or downright bizarre
  2. The book consists of long sinuous sentences that, strung together into long paragraphs and long pages, have a hypnotic effect
  3. I listened to part of the book on audio, read by Auster himself in his pleasant baritone
  4. I’m a writer myself, so the book was an interesting experiment in style and structure that I wanted to see if Auster could sustain till the end (he did). This is a book about how stories are told and how lives essentially are the stories we make of them. As such, it should be particularly appealing to people who are interested in the way stories are told

It might seem as if 4321 argues against the central conceit in Auster’s oeuvre, namely that our lives are ruled by chance. After all, how likely is it that many of the same things can happen to four different versions of Ferguson if the universe is pure chaos? But instead, Auster posits that all four versions of Ferguson would have lived the exact same life if chance had not intervened, tragically in some cases (people who live in some versions die in others). So in a way, this is The Music of Chance times four.

My one quibble with this book, despite its extraordinary length, is that it ends when Ferguson is in his late twenties. After some 800 pages, he’s still only at the beginning of his life, which means the book lacks that satisfyingly emotional gut-punch you get at the end of, say, The World According to Garp, where you feel you’ve really gone on a journey with a character and you’ve seen him rise and ultimately fade into darkness. Like Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale, 4321 ends when our hero is at the beginning of his literary career, and you want there to be a sequel. I hope Auster gets around to writing one.

Recent Reads – March 2017

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

There was a time when George Saunders was one of my favorite writers. I loved his first two books, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. But then my interest waned as his star rose — the former having nothing to do with the latter, by the way; I just gravitated toward a different kind of fiction. Anyway, I never read his most celebrated book to date, Tenth of December. I did, however, meet him right after In Persuasion Nation came out, and he read one of my short stories, and I’ll never forget the incredibly kind and generous feedback he gave me. I think it’s that kindness, which you find in his writings and in the interviews he gives, that people respond to and that have made Saunders into a critical darling — he can do no wrong. So when rapturous reviews started pouring in for Lincoln in the Bardo, I figured the only way for me to get a real sense of whether the book was any good was to read it myself. And it is good. It’s weird and wonderful like the best of his stories, and it contains some genuinely heartbreaking moments (like Lincoln’s first visit to his son’s tomb). Oh George, it’s good to be back.

Story of Your LifeStory of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

I have conflicted feelings about this book. Two of its stories — “Tower of Babylon” and “Story of Your Life” — are brilliant, while others felt more like essays on interesting SFnal ideas rather than full-fledged stories. Admittedly, I prefer this to fiction where the SFnal elements are just window-dressing to a non-SF plot — meaning, I like science fiction that can’t exist without its science — but the lack of “story” in some of Chiang’s stories made it hard for me to emotionally connect with them. I’m sure this fault is all mine because the stories that did work for me, particularly the title one, are truly heartbreaking. So as a collection of fiction, this didn’t entirely work for me, but as a collection of mind-boggling SFnal ideas wrapped in fiction, it’s stellar.

(I also wrote about the movie Arrival recently.)

Slaughterhouse-fiveSlaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

I have now read six Vonneguts in a row, and my modest theory on why Slaughterhouse-Five is his best-known book is that it combines the zaniness of his earlier work with the more cohesive storytelling of his later career (say, Jailbird). Like his best books, this one is deceptively profound and hilarious. It’s so good, in fact, you want the Trafalmadorian theory about life to be true: that a dead person is only dead in this moment but still very much alive in other moments. I’d like to think Vonnegut is still out there somewhere, scribbling away.

TimequakeTimequake – Kurt Vonnegut

This book is hysterical. I listened to the audio version while I ran and several times had to interrupt my run because I was laughing so hard.

 

 

Dog walkerDogwalker – Arthur Bradford

I come back to this book every 2 or 3 years. It’s short, bizarre, hilarious, tender-hearted, and unlike anything else I’ve read.

 

Recent Reads – February 2017

The Drawing of the ThreeThe Drawing of the Three – Stephen King

I’ve lost count of all the times I tried reading the Dark Tower series and got stuck in this book. If I wasn’t on a journey now to (re)read every Stephen King book — a journey perhaps as daunting as Roland’s trek to the Dark Tower — I might have given up again. But this time I made it to the end. Hallelujah.

Why did I struggle? I liked the book okay. Didn’t love it. King is always an entertaining storyteller, and a lot happens so the book is never boring. But every scene felt like it was stretched to the breaking point — they just went on and on and on. I suspect that with this book King decided to turn the Dark Tower into his magnum opus come hell or high water, and he started throwing everything at the wall hoping it would stick. (Apparently, he suffered from George RR Martin syndrome long before Martin himself did.)

I’ve heard this book described as a “bridge book,” and supposedly The Waste Lands is better, so onward and upward I go… to the Dark Tower.

Mother NightMother Night – Kurt Vonnegut

I have to be in a certain mood to read Kurt Vonnegut: the mood for silly profundity. So whenever that mood strikes, I read him in big gulps before it goes away again. Luckily, his books are never long or needlessly complex. This is a compliment. I’m always amazed, when I’m reading Vonnegut, at how effortless his books go down and how smoothly they seem put together. His narrators jump back and forth in time, they interrupt their stories with seemingly random asides and drawings, minor characters pop up, disappear, and reappear again; in short, Vonnegut does what any writing teacher would tell you NOT to do and somehow makes it work. Gloriously so.

Vonnegut’s books have a logic all their own, an infectious kind of madness. They’re all the same in this regard. Read one Vonnegut and you’ve read them all. This, too, is a compliment. Book after book, he offers a sustained vision of life as being both beautiful and absurd. So what can I say about Mother Night that I haven’t already said about, say, Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse Five? Just read it. For a Vonnegut newbie, this is as good a place to start as any. For a Vonnegut convert, this one ranks among his best and shouldn’t be missed.

Waiting for ContactWaiting for Contact – Lawrence Squeri

This book started off with a big bang (wink wink): it talked about the history of man’s fascination with extraterrestrial life, moving from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the more wonky area of ufology. But once SETI comes into play, things start to drag. A history of man’s search for ET isn’t complete without a close look at SETI of course, but the entire middle section of this book is taken up with recapping conferences, funding problems, and internal strife that left me with the feeling that SETI is too small, too conflicted, too underfunded, and has been too unsuccessful to really offer much hope of ever finding alien intelligence. Things pick up again in the last few pages, when the author widens his scope by theorizing about the future and new technologies for making contact. To anyone who finds this interesting, I’d recommend reading Paul Davies’ excellent THE EERIE SILENCE instead. Unless you want to find out how much government funding SETI received in, say, 1979. In that case, read Squeri’s book.

Recent Reads – December 2016

Time TravelTime Travel – James Gleick

If you get all tingly and happy at the wonderfully paradoxical possibilities of a history of time travel, this book is for you. It’s a mix of hard science, popular science, and retrospective of major SF novels that deal with time travel. I loved it.

The Postman Always Rings TwiceDouble Indemnity & The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain

Though these books are 80+ years old, they’re still as sharp as a razor blade and as taut as a guitar string.

 
 

The Colorado KidThe Colorado Kid – Stephen King

I love King and wish I loved this book too, but is this Minor King with a capital M. Three people discuss a mystery that turns out not to be very mysterious at all. It’s an anecdote stretched to some 100+ pages. King writes dialogue like no other, so the book is never boring, but THE COLORADO KID is like Chinese food: it leaves you hungry for something with real substance.

Trout Fishing in AmericaTrout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan

This book speaks my language.

Recent Reads – November 2016

A Whole LifeA Whole Life – Robert Seethaler

This book reminded me, in a positive way, of one of my all-time favorite short novels, Denis Johnson’s TRAIN DREAMS. Like that book, A WHOLE LIFE covers the life (duh) of a man who lives on the fringes of society at the turn of the 20th century. Both of these men make their living in the woods and mountains; both have shadowy interior lives that are never fully revealed; both have wives that die young and tragically; both never remarry; both are visited by the ghosts of their dead wives; both are perplexed by the modernization of the world; both are eventually left behind by the modern world but find contentment in their solitude. It wouldn’t surprise me if Seethaler was as moved by TRAINS DREAMS as I was. Both books are prime examples of how you don’t need a lot of words and pages to tell a grand story, and how even a modest life can be filled with luminous moments worthy of great literature.

EverymanEveryman – Philip Roth

This is the first of Roth’s four Nemeses and the last I’ve just reread (I reread them in reverse chronological order). With the exception of THE HUMBLING, I liked all of them better this time around than when I first read them upon their original publication. Maybe that’s because I now know they are (probably?) Roth’s final novels. And while I still think they are minor efforts compared to his best work (SABBATH’S THEATER, the American trilogy, the original Zuckerman books), I enjoyed taking a last run through some of his favorite themes: rebel sons and their overbearing fathers, the outrageousness of death, the temptations and trappings of sex, the moral indignity of religion.

NEMESIS, with its heartbreaking and ferocious ending, remains my favorite of the bunch. EVERYMAN is tied with INDIGNATION. Both are relentlessly bleak, but some sunlight filters through EVERYMAN’s dark mood in the form of childhood memories and a longing for lost loved ones that, especially in its final pages, truly moved me.

World Gone ByWorld Gone By – Dennis Lehane

As implied by its title, WORLD GONE BY is an elegiac book. It’s a direct follow-up to LIVE BY NIGHT and might as well have been tacked onto the end of that book to make one massive volume like its predecessor, THE GIVEN DAY.

Our hero, Joe Coughlin, this time around is concerned not with establishing his empire but tying up loose ends and securing a future for his son. He’s in his 30s, but in his line of work he might as well be an old man. Many of the characters in WGB are similarly aware of the passing of time and the brevity of human lives, which is reinforced by the war that’s devastating Europe and the violence that’s always in danger of erupting around them.

WGB is haunted by Thomas Coughlin’s — Joe’s dad — warning from the previous book that violence only begets more violence, and that Joe may not be able to live down all the evil he’s put into the world. Lacking the breakneck speed and spectacular set pieces of the last book, WBG delivers a slow buildup of dread. Joe Coughlin is going down. The question is who he’s taking with him.

Dolores ClaiborneDolores Claiborne – Stephen King

As I’m working my way through the entire King catalogue for the first time since my teens, I’m finding that the books that hold up best to a second reading are the non-horror ones. DOLORES CLAIBORNE starts off with the confession of a crime and the rejection of another, and doesn’t pull a twist ending or any other “gotcha” moments. And still King manages to keep the book moving for some 300 pages. This is largely due to Dolores Claiborne’s infectious voice, which really is King’s own voice in disguise — can an ornery, solitary housekeeper really be expected to keep up an engaging monologue for 300 pages the way King can? The result is a book that’s both horrific and hilarious.

JoylandJoyland – Stephen King

This was one King novel I hadn’t read yet. It’s short and sweet. I listened to the audio version read by Michael Kelly, whose delivery was fittingly melancholy. There were echoes here of King’s past work (the theme park setting reminded me of THE TALISMAN, plus King likes his kids with magical abilities), and a version of the televangelist that’s featured here off-stage takes center stage in his next book, REVIVAL (which, interestingly, name checks Joyland and The Territories from THE TALISMAN). In short, a minor but pleasant note in the King oeuvre.

 

Recent Reads – September 2016

 Fat CityFat City – Leonard Gardner

There’s much to love and admire about this book. The writing is exquisite, the dialogue very sharp and often very funny, plus it takes place in the Sacramento River delta, an area I know well. So why did it take me almost two years and several false starts to finish it, when it’s all of 190 pages? Because the characters — washed up boxers and small-time trainers — aren’t very likable. So I could only take this book in small, though brilliant, doses.

Bag of BonesBag of Bones – Stephen King

What a strange book this is. I listened to the audio version, narrated by Stephen King himself. He’s a great storyteller, both on and off the page (his small-town Maine accent being especially good), and his narration helped me get through the parts where otherwise I might have stopped reading. Because this book gets pretty silly…

BAG OF BONES seems to be confused about the story it’s trying to tell. It starts off strong with Mike Noonan, a writer of bestselling thrillers, who loses his wife quite tragically and mysteriously. There are some ghostly goings-on that may or may not be a manifestation of his grief. A third of the way in, the book resets and becomes a kind of legal thriller with a love story thrown into the mix, and more ghostly elements. That second storyline gets cast aside rather shockingly, and in the last third of the novel King takes the earlier fringe horror elements and turns them into a full-blown gothic melodrama. One almost wonders if King shouldn’t reconsider his famous preference for writing without an outline. He has said he wants to be surprised by the writing process — he doesn’t want to know exactly where he’s going — and BAG OF BONES certainly is full of surprises.

The thing about Uncle Steve is, he’s such a good storyteller that even the silly stuff is compelling. Forty-something Mike Noonan almost getting drowned by two senior citizens. Dreams that conveniently reveal information Noonan otherwise would never have found out. And a perfectly timed death that even Noonan himself admits would have embarrassed him if he’d used it in one of his novels. Silly, and yet, you read on.

In short, BAG OF BONES is a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess. I recommend the audio version.

GGhostlandhostland: An American History in Haunted Places – Colin Dickey

This is a fun read. I love a good ghost story, and GHOSTLAND contains plenty of them. Books of this kind have a tendency to veer into sensationalism and ridiculousness, with unsubstantiated claims, blurry pictures, and bad writing. Dickey, however, is a solid writer and humble historian. He situates each ghostly tale into its historical context, turning the book into a road trip not just through haunted America but through our haunted history. He doesn’t simply repeat ghost stories, but examines their historical veracity, without taking hearsay or questionable “scientific” findings — EVP recordings, EMF meter readings, orbs — as proof. In fact, GHOSTLAND left me with the feeling that very few, if any, famous American ghost stories contain any real supernatural elements. The scariest thing is how we’ve continually distorted the historical record to soothe our conscience or make a buck off a good story.