Amazon Drones: Fly Me!

From the messy desk of Paul Levine…

By now you know,  Amazon is experimenting with delivering packages to your front door by drones.  If you missed it, the video shown on “60 Minutes” is available on You Tube.  Now, The New York Times reports that Google  is developing “humanoid robots” — I love that term — that can hop off a Google automated car and deliver your package.  Take that, Amazon!

For some reason, I keep picturing the space alien Klaatu and his drone, i.e., flying saucer,  in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”  (The 1951 original…not the Keanu Reeves remake).

the day the earth stood still
Klaatu emerges from his flying saucer in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Back to those Amazon drones.  I like to think the vehicle pictured at the top of this blog is carrying several of my books to a waiting customer.  (Thirty minute delivery!  But hold your horses…or robots.  I have an idea.  I would like to delivered by drone.  That’s right.  I’d like to volunteer to be the first author dropped on a reader’s front lawn by Amazon drones.  Please, Jeff Bezos, make me part of the 99 cent Daily Deal.  (If the reader wants Stephen King, Lee Child, or John Grisham, they have to shell out $4.99).

When I arrive, I will attempt to entertain the buyer by spinning a tale or two.  Maybe the family will invite me in for a cup of coffee and donuts.

Because Amazon is The-Company-So-Many-Love-to-Hate, the drone proposal has already drawn flak.  My pal, the otherwise sane author John Ramsay Miller opined: “Not content with destroying business like book stores, Bezos has more job killing in store for the middle class.”  I have to disagree.  Amazon is merely ramping up the delivery business.  Local and chain stores will respond in kind.  If Amazon can truly deliver a $12 roller skate key (that’s what’s shown in the video) in 30 minutes, so can a local store.  (Does anyone still skate?)

Several Facebook friends have chimed in about the drone delivery proposal.  Veteran newsman Tim King predicts local TV stations will start using drones instead of helicopters to save money.  Retired journalism prof Tom Berner wants to start using drones for his photography.  Wisecracker Lynn Gard Price said, “Two words: Target practice.”

The Amazon drones may or may not come to fruition.  Either way, progress is sometimes frightening.  Buggy whip manufacturers surely did not like the advent of the mass-produced automobile.  But we adapt.  Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google have changed the way we live…and the pace of our lives.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Poster

Nowadays, we take for granted activities that would have been jaw-dropping less than a generation ago.  A few days ago,  I received an email from OnStar, telling me that the pressure in my car’s right front tire was 31 pounds instead of the recommended 35.  That’s right.  Not only does the company provide me with a navigation system and satellite phone — useful when there is no cell coverage — but once a month, it runs a diagnostic check on the car and informs me of the results.  I am awed.

So there you have it.  Just be gentle, Amazon, when you drop me on that front lawn, and let’s avoid yards with pit bulls.

Paul Levine

The Books of Scott Turow

Scott Turow and Paul Levine in Los Angeles…

The two heavyweights of legal thrillers, John Grisham and Scott Turow, have new novels out at the same time.  We examined Grisham’s blockbuster “Sycamore Row”  in a prior blog.  Today, let’s take a look at the books of Scott Turow, starting with his law school memoir and concluding with his current bestselling “Identical.”

First, a bit of  Turow’s background.  He graduated with high honors from Amherst, studied and taught writing at Stanford and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.  He is also president of the prestigious Author’s Guild and still practices law part-time.  According to Wikipedia, “Turow works pro bono in most of his cases, including a 1995 case where he won the release of Alejandro Hernandez, who had spent 11 years on death row for a murder he did not commit.”

Scott Turow

The Books of Scott Turow

ONE-L

(1977) Basically a journal of Turow’s first year at Harvard Law, it is still in print and required reading for anyone contemplating the rigors (and mortis) of law school.

PRESUMED INNOCENT

(1987) My favorite legal thriller of all time. Prosecutor Rusty Sabich goes on trial for the murder of his colleague…and mistress.

THE BURDEN OF PROOF

(1990) Sandy Stern, the defense lawyer in “Presumed Innocent,” suffers a tragedy when his wife commits suicide and thus begins a journey of self-discovery and another foray into the criminal justice system.

PLEADING GUILTY

(1993) Money and a star litigator go missing from a law firm, and it’s up to an ex-cop turned lawyer to find them…and trouble.

THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS

(1996) Judge Sonia Klonsky, from “The Burden of Proof” narrates a complex tale involving a murder trial. As is frequent in Turow’s novels, secrets of the past emerge in explosive ways.

PERSONAL INJURIES

(1999) A P.I. lawyer with a penchant for bribing judges gets nabbed. Wearing a wire to trap others, he is supervised by FBI agent Evon Miller (who will re-appear in “Identical”). Their relationship is the heart of the tale.

REVERSIBLE ERRORS

(2002) This one has it all: a man on Death Row, a reluctant defense lawyer, and possible new evidence that can exonerate the condemned. Not an original concept, but in Turow’s hands, a richly woven tale.

ORDINARY HEROES

(2005) Family secrets are again at the heart of the story, but this one is a change of pace as a man searches for the truth about his father’s combat and court-martial during World War II.

LIMITATIONS

(2006) The shortest of Turow’s novels, “Limitations” was originally published in The New York Times Magazine. A judge, a rape trial, and questions about morality are at the center of the story.

INNOCENT

(2010) Rusty Sabich from “Presumed Innocent” is back. Now, he’s a judge having an affair…and accused of killing his wife. One of my favorites.

Which brings us to…

The Books of Scott Turow
The Books of Scott Turow: “Identical” is the latest

IDENTICAL

(2013) A state senator runs for mayor just as his identical twin is released from prison, 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend. The novel is said to take its inspiration from the myth of Castor and Pollux, identical twins born to Leda, after she was raped by Zeus. (I have to confess I had no idea Zeus was such a lout). Early reviews have been mixed. Writing in “The New York Times Book Review,” Adam Liptak complained:

“‘Identical” is stuffed with so many themes and reversals that readers may end up feeling the way you do after a long family meal with too much talk and food: disoriented, logy and a little nostalgic. Turow has many gifts. He might consider being a little more parsimonious in doling them out.”

At another point in the review, however, Liptak states:

“Still, the rich, sharp courtroom scenes, always Turow’s specialty, are the best parts of the book. He is particularly good at showing how judges use minor rulings to nudge a case to their preferred outcome.”

Now, Turow doesn’t need my help selling books. But, as always with reviews, it’s better to read the book…and make your own decision.  What’s your verdict on the books of Scott Turow?

Paul Levine

 

Best Book Covers of All Time

By Paul Levine

Lots of people compile lists of their favorite books. So why not the best book covers? I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, my personal list of the Best Book Covers of All Time.

I’d start with Joseph Hirsch. He was a Social Realist painter whose cover of Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman,” is…well, social realism at work. (Yes, I know it was a play, but it’s in print so it qualifies as one of the best book covers of all time).

200px-DeathOfASalesman best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, going way more commercial, how about Chip Kidd’s iconic vision for Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park?” (It was so good the moviemakers used it, too).

Book Covers: Jurassic Park
The T-Rex cover of “Jurassic Park” has become iconic.

 

Many people regard fellow Penn State grad Kidd as the designer of the best book covers of the past quarter century. According to Wikipedia:

“Publishers Weekly described his book jackets as ‘creepy, striking, sly, smart, unpredictable covers that make readers appreciate books as objects of art as well as literature.’ USA TODAY called him ‘the closest thing to a rock star’ in graphic design today, while author James Ellroy has called him ‘the world’s greatest book-jacket designer.’”

Best Book Covers: “Psycho” is Just Perfect

Then there’s Tony Palladino’s fractured cover image for Robert Bloch’s “Psycho,” which of course was adapted into the scary-as-hell Hitchcock film.

200px-RobertBlock_Psycho best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like (but have mixed feelings about) the cover of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” It was designed by Paul Bacon, known for large type and small illustrations. Hey, you need good eyesight to find the B-25 bomber. The cover wouldn’t fly in the era of the Internet with postage-stamp size images on Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. Still, the wacky image representing Captain Yossarian strikes me as just the right note.

catch 22 best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Like the fictional Yossarian, Heller was a bombardier on a B-25 in World War II, flying 60 combat missions over Italy. When I met him once in Key West, I told Heller he was my father’s favorite writer and that my father had been a navigator on a B-29, flying combat missions over Japan. “Then your Dad’s my hero,” Heller replied).

Now, you may disagree with me here, but I really don’t like one of the most famous book covers of all time. It’s Elmer Hader’s illustration for John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Hader wrote children’s stories and this cover, it seems to me, is too optimistic and cheery. I would have liked something more grim, along the lines of Hirsch’s tone with “Death of a Salesman.” But I could be wrong.

the grapes of wrath best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly, Steinbeck would not agree with my position. He chose Hader for the book, approved the cover, then had him do both “East of Eden” and “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

I asked a reader (a fan of my Jake Lassiter series) for her favorite book cover. She chose Lawrence Block’s “Getting Off.” Subtitled, “a novel of sex and violence,” the pulp cover delivers what is promised. Maybe more than is necessary. It’s what people in Hollywood would call “on the nose.”

getting off best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What say you? Do you have any favorite book covers?

Paul Levine

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