Friday, March 23, 2007

Peter Ames Carlin

As well as being the author of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, Peter Ames Carlin is the TV critic for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland.

He has also been a senior writer for People magazine in New York, and a free-lance writer publishing work in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Men’s Journal and elsewhere.

I was impressed by Ralph Heibutzki's praise for Catch a Wave, so I asked Carlin about what he has been reading. His reply:
I was deeply into Paul Theroux's Hotel Honolulu, and was about 90 percent of the way through it but then left it in a hotel room a week or so ago; so now that's gone, and I have to get it out of the library or something in order to finish it. Which I'll do, because it's such a wonderful, if fractal, portrait of the many weird cultures and subcultures that make up Hawaii.

I just started Rich Cohen's book about Jewish gangsters, Tough Jews. I'm only about 15 pages in so far, but I've gobbled up all of his other books in the last few months, starting with Sweet and Low, all the way through Lake Effect, Rockers and Machers and then The Avengers. I'm sure this one will be every bit as wonderful. He's a lovely writer, smart, insightful, sweet and funny. And has the best eye for modern American Jewish culture since, I dunno, Philip Roth?

I'm also reading the galleys to A Moveable Thirst, a book about the Napa wine region by my friend Rick Kushman (like me a TV critic by day) and Hank Beal. The second half of the book is a guide to actual Napa wineries, but the first half is pure narrative, about the guys' adventures touring the wineries themselves. It's charming and funny, but also smart and a nice tutorial for aspiring wine buffs. As such it reminds me of the other wine book I read this year, Brian Doyle's The Grail, which is essentially a series of essays about a year at an elite winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The grail in the title is the perfect pinot noir ... which a lot of people (including Brian's subjects) have come awfully close to creating.

I also just re-read Huckleberry Finn, aloud this time, since I was reading it to my kids. And what a pleasure that was, both for the opportunity to not just read, but also recite Twain's language, and to see how elegantly and subtly he used the very language and text of racism (institutionalized and otherwise) to reveal exactly how ludicrous it is. The set piece on the Civil War is every bit as powerful, and more than a little sad.

I'm going on vacation next week and I have another collection of Theroux stories to take along, plus Marc Acito's novel How I Paid For College, and I'll probably still be neck-deep in Tough Jews, while I'm at it.

Oh, and since I'm a TV critic I feel like I should give some props to the shows that strike me as a kind of video literature. Which sounds more bogus than I mean it to ... my larger being that they turn me on, most often because the writing is so extremely strong:

"The Sopranos": (HBO)

"Slings and Arrows," (CBC/Sundance/but get it on dvd's too)

"The Shield" (FX)

"The Riches" (FX)

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO)

"Lost" (ABC)
Visit Peter Ames Carlin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue