Best Non-Faulkner Books from the South

Check out my recommendations for a few all-time great reads. Hard to pick just five, but here they are, on a new author platform:

Captain Queeg and His Nuclear Arsenal

The conservative National Review was one of the first to notice the striking resemblance of Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart in the movie) to a certain New York real estate man. How would our president-elect fare in a nuclear crisis?

In The Caine Mutiny, Queeg takes command of a ship for the first time and begins focusing on trivialities. When the ship heads into combat he panics, hides in his cabin, and metes out severe punishment. During a hurricane, he is immobilized with fear, and the executive officer has to relieve him of command. A doctor later describes Queeg’s symptoms—feelings of persecution, unreasonable suspicion, a neurotic certainty that he is always in the right.

When he was nervous, Queeg rolled metal balls in his hand. When Trump was cornered in the debates, he began sucking air through his nose. Trump has objected to peaceful protest, complained about a TV parody, twice asked the cast of a Broadway musical to apologize for reading a short, polite letter, and characterized a chaotic transition effort as going “so smoothly.”

In June, Politico magazine examined the nuclear issue in detail ( On the plus side, Trump does not drink and he has great stamina. He also seems to recognize nuclear arms as the greatest risk to U.S. security. What’s more uncertain is whether he has the steely nerves and the judgment to handle a crisis. This crisis would likely take one of two forms. In the first, a false alarm lights up consoles in our missile detection system. Trump and his team would have just a few minutes to assess the threat and respond. This happened during Carter’s watch. In the second scenario, a standoff between nations builds into a crisis. Our president would need to keep a lid on his emotions and not overplay his hand, or the situation could escalate badly. Our president has the authority to order a nuclear strike without approval from anybody. In an all-out nuclear war, hundreds of millions of people would die in a few hours, ending modern civilization.

In business, Trump has often resorted to threats of lawsuits. But, the article stresses, “One cannot litigate a solution to a nuclear crisis.” The article concludes: “Trump certainly has not yet made a convincing case that we could sleep soundly with him at the helm.”

Does Trump have the restraint required to keep us and the world safe? Or is he, in fact, on the road to mental instability? If so, will those who surround him recognize it in time? The fact that the president-elect has tapped a few good men, like Mitt Romney, in no way validates Trump the man. They are treating him with kid gloves because they love their children and don’t want the world to go up in smoke. Amendment 25 of the Constitution allows the VP to assume the presidency if the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. This would be decided by the VP and a majority of the Cabinet.

I wake up mornings hoping we haven’t put a delusional paranoiac at the helm of the most destructive military arsenal in the history of mankind. I don’t like having to think about this stuff. I’d rather think about novel writing, or a good hike, or what’s for dinner. I long for the days of “Has It Been 4 Years Yet?” bumper stickers, when “the end is near” was just a joke. I almost wish I hadn’t read the letter from 50 former security officials. Their assessment was that Trump “lacks self-control and acts impetuously” and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” It feels like we’re in a thriller, where there’s a race against time to stop a maniac from destroying the world.

On the Election

We thought the threat was coming from abroad. But it was here all along, set loose by a cunning charlatan. We have been conned, and we are on the brink of being cheated out of our country. We couldn’t imagine him getting nominated. We couldn’t imagine him getting elected. Now is the time to let our imaginations run wild, and they should scare the hell out of us.

A Washington insider, around since the Eisenhower administration, told me he has not seen anything this threatening to democracy since the 1940s, when there was a very real chance that Americans would lose their freedom. Trump will appoint his own director of the IRS, and then he can extort anybody in Congress. Once he gets a taste of Washington power and figures out how it works, he will become nearly uncheckable. The only thing he won’t control is a free press, at least for a while. Don’t expect gas chambers, but do expect incremental losses of freedom and security, especially if you are not a white male. Expect our national lands to be sold off, privatized for profit. Expect any number of nightmares.

The forces of complacency, mischief, and fear have led us down this path. Is there a way out? Maybe a narrow one. He may already be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting violence against Muslims and other minorities and for being a sexual predator. Articles of impeachment should be drawn up and awaiting him on January 21. Urge your senators and congressmen to unite against him by any and all legal and constitutional means before he gains power. At the very least, encourage them to work with moderates across the aisle to keep this man from doing long-term damage.

Liberals, now is the time to fall on your swords for America, just as honorable Republicans were willing to do before the election. Many Democrats fear the far-right-leaning Pence would be worse. But Trump has already put him in charge of domestic and foreign policy. Leaving Trump in charge of what, exactly? Presumably, “making America great again.” In other words, inciting bigotry and hate crimes in the name of correcting political correctness.

The time to stand up to this despicable media creation is now, before he becomes a tyrant. Efforts to stop the contagion should be aimed at the source. Yes, it will be painful and hard, but that should not prevent us from trying.

But, you may ask, have we not already made our decision at the polls? Yes, but this is a fundamentally different case. For the first time in our nation’s history, we have elected an utterly despicable man. Decency, restraint, and intelligence have been rebuked. We must never forget that the man we just elected is a cyber bully, a coarse misogynist, a whiner who protests the fairness of the American electoral system before it’s even begun, a spoiled billionaire who has yet to praise the American system that made him wealthy, a demagogue who has no idea how American governance works and little apparent curiosity about it, a vindictive, thin-skinned egotist who threatens lawsuits at the slightest provocation. And he has surrounded himself with sycophants and stooges—many of them formerly men of character—who are incapable of standing up to him and doing the right thing if it means jeopardizing their own careers.

On Saturday Trump engaged in a four-hour twitter spree, gloating over his victory, while Paul Ryan—our de facto leader-elect—was left to reassure the nation about the rise in hate crimes. Trump’s response came only after being questioned in an interview. He looked in the camera and said, “Stop it.” There was no elaboration. In the same insincere tone he has said, “I have enormous respect for women.” In another inside joke with himself, he said the “second amendment people” might do something to stop Clinton, then later attempted to reinterpret his call to violence. He has nothing but contempt for his own electorate. He has taken our measure and found us as morally bankrupt as himself, and he will press his advantage over us.

But, you say, Trump is assembling his team, and it all seems like a done deal. Don’t bow to what appears inevitable. Our nation was created from scratch, by good people realizing that history was presenting them with a moment. This is our moment. We must act boldly and swiftly, before this man seizes control of the judicial system throughout the land. Or else there may be no country to govern. We have waited, we have seen. We have given him a chance. What has our new leader given us? A twitter smack-down and the appointment of a white nationalist as his chief strategist. Imagine Mitt Romney doing that, or John McCain, or Barack Obama, or George Bush (either), or Jimmy Carter, or Ronald Reagan.

A man who publicly mocks the handicapped should be turned from. And yet we applauded. A man who vilifies a war hero should be excoriated. Yet we egged him on. He bragged he could shoot somebody and not lose voters. Did we turn away in disgust? No, we wanted more. He cheated, bluffed, and lied his way to wealth and power, and we admired him for it. We laughed, we were entertained.

Congress is the only institution that can pull us back from the brink. Do they have the guts to stand up to this hollow human being?

Some of my writer friends have spoken out on Facebook about this repugnant stain upon our nation. Others have remained strangely quiet. Perhaps they are gathering their thoughts. My fear is that they are worried about their jobs or their safety. If so, we have already sacrificed some freedom.

One of our great historians, David McCullough is a registered Independent who has often voted Republican. He rarely speaks about modern politicians. He described Trump as “a monstrous clown with a monstrous ego.” Documentarian Ken Burns, our national storyteller, called Trump a “terrifying Orwellian statesman” and declared that “This is not a liberal or conservative issue . . . This is an American issue.”

We are engaged now in a fight for the soul of America. The election was just the opening battle. This is our country, and we must never forget who this man is and what he represents—he represents the worst in us, not the best; our fears, not our hopes. Stalwart men and women on both sides of the aisle need our encouragement now. They cannot do this alone. Obama and Clinton and Ryan have paved the way for a peaceful transfer of power, because they believe in peace. They also believe in decency and fairness and freedom. Our representatives are, after all, just people. They count on us for guidance and direction.

This is a dark moment in American history. What will our response be? That we sat back and did nothing? That we took a wait-and-see attitude, as many in Congress are doing? We may not dislodge him in four years, or even eight (yes, let your imagination go). But we can try. Let’s call our congressmen.

And don’t forget to laugh sometimes, and listen to music—we need to stay sane. This could take a while.

Godspeed Paul Kozlowski

It was my good fortune to know Paul Kozlowski for the last four years of his life. If anybody could be said to embody the best of the book industry, it would be Paul. Having spent 35 years in bookselling and publishing, he knew the business inside-out, top to bottom. He’d been with Doubleday, Barnes & Noble, Random House, Knopf, and Pantheon, and was until recently associate publisher at Other Press. His view on the rapidly changing industry was both clear-eyed and optimistic. After a conversation with Paul–that might start with the future of electronic publishing and veer to the lesser works of Tolstoy and the the joys of Polish pickles–you’d always end up feeling better about being involved in this crazy business. That it mattered deeply and was being tended to by people who cared deeply. Paul accepted that there were no givens, no hard-and-fast rules in publishing any more than there were in life. I asked him once about a line on his Twitter bio, “living under blue skies on borrowed time.” He said it’s what we’re all doing whether we’re aware of it or not. But he was offhand about it; he wasn’t a solemn sort. Jolly is a word that comes to mind, and gentlemanly. He was ever ready with a smile and a laugh, ready to hear a good new story, willing to be surprised and pleased. He died last week of a heart attack at age 60. There was a packed house at his memorial service yesterday; his presence was palpable. He died too suddenly, too young.