Category Archives: Books

‘Blood Aces’ Up His Sleeve


In my spare time (hah!), I like to read up on Las Vegas lore. So when Doug J. Swanson’s biography of the late, great and delightfully despicable casino magnate Benny Benion came out, I was one of the first to nab a preview copy. The book is an exciting, immersive yet thoroughly educational read, and I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to know more about the history of Las Vegas and/or the World Series of Poker. It also has a bonus interest for me because a portion of it takes place in my hometown of Arlington, Texas. Who knew this Dallas suburb used to host quite the gambling racket!

Still not convinced? Or just want to know more before you dive in? Check out my review in Vegas Seven mag:

The Untamed Times of Benny Binion: An intense biography sheds new light on the Las Vegas legend

Right now, it seems like the biggest thing in new Vegas is Old Vegas. From the SLS’ many winks at its Saharan predecessor to the recent revamp of the long-running showgirl revue Jubilee! at Bally’s to the Cosmopolitan’s Liberace exhibit, it seems like glamorizing Vegas’ past has finally replaced imploding it.

Amid this new cultural climate arrives Doug J. Swanson’s compelling biography of a legendary Las Vegas forefather—Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster who Created Vegas Poker (Viking, $28). In it, Swanson combines an investigative reporter’s zeal for research with an author’s love of words. The result is a sweeping history of a lost era and a compulsively readable character study, with some fun turns of phrases to boot: Swanson describes Binion as “an aspiring pasha of vice,” “a rube savant” and a “doughy rural-route cherub, at least until he decided he wanted somebody dead, which had happened with some frequency.” [READ MORE]

Advertisements

Keeping Up With the Pawn Stars

One of the things about living in Vegas is that people (read: tourists) always want to know if you live in a casino, gamble all the time and hang out with the cast of Pawn Stars. This phenomenon is especially true on airplane rides to Vegas. I often find myself writing out a full itinerary for my curious seatmate on a Southwest Airlines napkin by the time we’re touching down in McCarran airport. Even though it’s kind of annoying  to play tour guide, I’m happy to help because I see it as my duty as a Las Vegan to keep our city’s livelihood happy and healthy.

So, to answer those cliche queries about casino housing, gambling and Pawn Stars: Nope, almost never and sometimes, kinda yes.

As A&E editor for Vegas Seven magazine, I live in the weird, liminal space where the Vegas fantasy and journalism collide. In such a land, I recently found myself spending a delightful afternoon sharing my love of all things literary with Pawn Stars’ rare book expert and Bauman Rare Books manager Rebecca Romney.

The interview came out a couple weeks ago, and you can read it here. She’s truly such a wonderful and intelligent woman that I URGE you to read the interview just to bask in her smartness.

I’ve also interviewed Pawn Stars’ lovable clown, Chumlee, at least twice. He’s an equally likeable guy, but, as you might imagine, with vastly different attributes.

Read those interviews here and here.

Her One-Night Stand of a Writing Career

Wurtzel image_with bagWhat the world does not need is another blog response to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s angsty personal essay in New York Magazine, “Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life.” But as a woman writer, I cannot resist. Because everybody else already has, I won’t get into the most obvious complaints. (The New Yorker offered my favorite critique; Slate’s was great, too.) I will focus on the two things that bother me:

1. She relates marriage to prostitution.

“I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes”

To which I say, what’s so wrong with prostitution (if it’s between two consenting adults)? Certainly that’s not my life choice, but I don’t begrudge the choices of others. Why would such a self-advertised feminist free spirit who is so proud of sleeping around be so into judging other women’s choices? It just seems so un-feminist and so un-free spirited!

2. Her self-imposed trainwreck of a life makes for some great rubbernecking. But all this self-indulgent self-destruction seems so dated. Her writing is like the literary equivalent of wearing Doc Marten’s and a flannel shirt. In a national climate where everybody is just trying to recover from the Great Recession, how can readers tolerate her gleeful boast of being poor because she chose a designer purse over a savings account?

“But I never saved or invested, because I believe if you take care of the luxuries, the necessities will take care of themselves. When I got a huge advance for Bitch, my second book, I bought a Birkin bag…”

Somebody introduce Wurtzel to Suze Orman’s Women & Money. This Huffington Post critique says it best, but it bears repeating: An independent woman has gotta be responsible for her own finances. How else do you keep from being a prostitute?

12 Best Books of 2012

I’m only slightly sorry to note that I posted but a single blog in all of 2012. That’s because I’ve been so busy living life, reading books, writing articles, etc., all in IRL. I’m planning a several-post roundup of what you, my friends, fans and Internet stalkers, have missed. Let’s start with books.:

The 12 Best Books I’ve Read in 2012:

(in alphabetical order by author’s name)

Something Wicked This Way ComesMy AntoniaThe Last WerewolfMiddlesex
A Discovery of WitchesThe LacunaAmerican Gypsy: A MemoirVegas Knockout: a novel in stories
The Egyptologist: A NovelBattlebornThe House of MirthRevolutionary Road

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. A beautiful, poetic and creepy tale about nostalgia, growing up and aging … or, if you prefer, about a father and son’s fight against an evil carnival that comes to town. Make it at Halloween tradition!

My Antonia by Willa Cather. An invigorating tale of the pioneer spirit. Read it and feel connected to the American experience.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. When a literary author writes a page-turner the result is intelligent entertainment. Can’t wait to read the sequel.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. A sweet coming-of-age tale about a transgendered child of immigrant parents. Pair it with Revolutionary Road for an interesting comparison of perspectives.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Twilight for women with advanced degrees. The ultimate guilty pleasure. Sadly, her sequel does not live up to book one’s promise.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I grew to love this protagonist: a Mexican-American boy-turned-author who works for Diego Rivera and befriends Frida Kahlo.

An American Gypsy by Oksana Marafioti. A touching and insightful memoir of a high-school student’s immigrant experience.

Vegas Knockout by P Moss. A darkly humorous collection of linked short stories revealing life in the underbelly of Las Vegas in the lead-up to a big fight. The characters are enchanting.

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. A purposefully rambling faux-Victorian archeological mystery. Listen to the book for the myriad accents. Read if you enjoy dry humor or wonder about the dark side of Downton Abbey.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins. A fantastic debut short-story collection that gives life to the “nowhere places” in rural Nevada.

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. This classic novel about a independent-minded New York heiress who must find a husband (or else) is, oddly enough, quite relevant to life in Las Vegas.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. The ultimate smack-down on life in suburbia. The movie does not compare to the book!

The Economics of E-Readers

Can you spot the article about literature hidden in Angelina's hairline?

Everybody (especially me) is terrified that e-readers will do to books what Napster did to the music industry. And perhaps with the recent closing of Border’s, there’s some merit to that fear.

However, my short personal experience of owning a Kindle have taught me otherwise. As I said in my last post, I’d fallen out of the habit of reading (and especially buying) novels. But now that I have a Kindle, I can’t resist the temptation. It’s instant gratification with a lasting reward.

And by gaining one marketing advantage, publishers seem to have realized another: up-selling. Here’s my anecdotal evidence:

A few days ago, I was shopping at Target, as I am wont to do. At the checkout line, I spotted a teaser for an an article in Vanity Fair:

How to Create
A LITERARY
STAR

By Keith Gessen P. 262

“I want to become a literary star,” I thought to myself as I plunked it on the conveyor belt without even glancing at the $4.99 cover price.

When I was home and halfway through through the article, I noticed a little textbox lodged into a column on page 272:

For an amplified version
of this story, download
How a Book Is Born.

For the Nook and Kindle.

I stupidly assumed that the “amplified version” would be free, since I’d already paid in bulk for a bunch of articles. And by the time, I discovered it cost $1.99, I couldn’t let that small figure keep me from literary stardom.

In the end, I paid $7 plus tax for the pleasure of reading one (1) magazine article! Now who says the publishing industry is dying?

And yes, it was worth every penny. (But only because of the free perfume samples—otherwise I’d been better off buying the $1.99 Kindle version and saving a tree.)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Kindle

Check out my green Kindle cover with Shag sticker. (I'm not smiling because I'm concentrating on holding my computer with one hand while pushing the photo button. ... So much for stoicism.)

For my birthday, I got the best present in the world: A Kindle! (Thanks, Dad.)

When e-readers came out a couple years ago, I’ll admit that I was terrified of them. To me, they represented the end of all that was real and true about books … before I even got a chance to publish my own.

Two things changed my mind:
1. The technology got better.
2. I realized that despite my lifelong love of reading novels, I had fallen out of the habit. Instead, I frittered away my free time obsessively reading the New York Times online. Why? Because it was convenient. For me, getting a Kindle was leveling the playing field for books.

Why a Kindle?: Although I’m starting to fear that Amazon may be the next evil empire, I chose its e-reader. Sure I could have gone with the flashier iPad or the touchscreen Nook. But I did not want a FaceBook machine or an Angry Birds console, I wanted a device that was as much like a real book as possible. So far, Kindle has been wonderful.

The agony and ecstasy of choosing a cover: For the first time in my life, the cover of a book was not the thing that held the pages together, it was a reflection of myself. I wanted to proclaim to the world that I was smart, I was an intellectual, and that I had a fabulous sense of style.

I narrowed down my Kindle cover options to three types: 1. The covers that are made to look like copies of the New Yorker (but which one?) 2. The covers that look like literary novels (but which one?) 3. The Kate Spade covers that also look like novels (Great Gatsby was my fave).

I’ll spare you the agony and dispense the results. After so much thought, I ended up picking Amazon’s own cover because it had so many more amenities. The built-in light that’s powered through the e-reader is awesome. And in the end, with the help of a couple stickers, I have a cover that’s all my own!

The back of my Kindle: The two Shag stickers tell a story, if you look carefully.

It’s 3 Days Till Christmas. Do You Know Where Your Presents Are?

My Family's Ranch

I could conquer the world, if I could just get around to it. I hate that I procrastinate. This time, I procrastinated with Christmas gifts. I had this awesome plan to put together a book for my family about the family ranch. I would combine my grandfather’s short stories about the ranch with family photos and use one of those nifty and fairly priced websites to create a “professional” book. I came up with this idea at Thanksgiving.

The non-procrastinating family (courtesy o' Shutterfly)

And from Thanksgiving until today, I avoided it. I let it creep around in the back of my mind like a rat infestation. But I did nothing to fix the problem. This makes me a bad person and I know it.  (In my defense, I am trying to make a living writing & teaching & noveling, which takes up lots o time.)

Nonetheless, I valiantly tried to find a place that could make me a photo book by Christmas. This is America, damnit! The land of Capitalism and Opportunity. A mere photo book by Xmas should be more than possible. Let me give you my money! …Somebody? …Anybody? Is there anybody out there with a printer and a cash register?

After a day of searching, the answer is apparently not. So I changed strategies. Who needs the Internet to make a book, anyway? I could make one myself. Using paper. And thread. Or something.

A quick Internet search on “easy bookbinding” found the above instructional video. The dinky music and 5-year-old instructor fit both my situation and skill level. But the question is, will my family (any family?) appreciate a book bound by ribbon as a gift from an adult?

So the real question is this: Do I give a place holder gift and order the book now (Thus inviting derision but delivering superior quality)? Or do I try to hand bind 10 books with ribbon or some other YouTube concoction?

PS. The word count on my novel is 48,507. I need to get a move on that as well.