Category Archives: Books

The Luncheon Society/ Time Magazine’s Ioan Grillo on his book “El Narco”—the growth of the drug insurgency in Mexico/SF—Palio D’Asti/October 26, 2011/Manhattan—Primehouse November 29, 2011

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

As Mexico continues to sink into the hell of its own Narco Terror, Time Magazine’s Ioan Grillo details how things got violent so quickly. 

Since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched the first concentrated attack against the drug cartels, nearly 40,000 people have been killed and another 90,000 have been wounded. With an annual estimated revenue beyond $30 Billion annually, the cartels have no plans to quiet the violence.  

It is hard to believe, but at the dawn of the new century, Mexico was evolving from a one-party semi-democracy to a multi-party state.  Border cities like Juarez and Tijuana were primed to take advantage of the benefits from NAFTA and American brands built factories where low—waged Mexican workers built high-ticket good designed for American tastes.


It should have been a Golden Age for Mexico, but as Grillo notes in his book El Narco ,” Mexico runs the risk of being wholly coopted by the ruthless nature of groups like the Sinaloa Cartel their rivals, the Gulf Cartel, La Familia Michoacana, Los Zetas Cartel, or some other offshoot or reconstituted gang. Now that we are on the eve of the 2012 Mexican national elections, there are enough dead in Mexico to sell-out Dodger Stadium. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Joyce Carol Oates on “A Widow’s Story, a Memoir”/San Francisco—One Market Restaurant/March 21, 2011/Manhattan—The Century Club October 14, 2011

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Joyce Carol Oates fights for the underdog.  In “Black Water,” she imagines a fictionalized version of Chappaquiddick seen through the eyes of a thinly veiled character drawn to resemble Mary Jo Kopechne, hoping that the Senator would return to rescue her as her life ticks away.  In an upcoming post-modern novel, she is re-imagines the friendship between two doomed Hollywood personae, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Short, as they moved in the some of the same circles. Monroe became a Hollywood icon and died famously in 1962. Short emerged as famous the victim in “The Black Dahlia,” a murder that haunts Los Angeles to this very day.

In her latest work, she is the underdog we root for as she moves through a difficult chapter of her own life.


The Luncheon Society sat down with Joyce at One Market in San Francisco and The Century Association, thanks to the kind intercession of Enzo Viscusi.

Her output is nothing short of prodigious. At the moment, Joyce Carol Oates has penned 60 novels, 30 collections of short stories, 10 volume of poetry, and all are written by hand. She joined The Luncheon Society in San Francisco and Manhattan to discuss her latest personal and moving book titled, “A Widow’s Story, A Memoir,” which detailed her descent into widowhood.

“My Husband died, my life collapsed.” As the book jacket notes, “A Widow’s Story illuminates one woman’s struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of “death-duties,” and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief—the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous “pools” of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow’s desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that this is my life now.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Criminologist David Kennedy on his memoir “Don’t Shoot” on how to decrease urban violence/San Francisco-Palio d’Asti/October 4, 2011

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Most people view urban crime from the safety of the own living rooms. However, criminologist David Kennedy grabs the problem by the scruff of the neck and has created a template, if deployed correctly, might end the cycle of violence that has become commonplace for so many lawless urban neighborhoods. 

The Luncheon Society has looked at crime  (its sources and its impact) though a number of authors.  Our friend and sociologist Peter Moskos published a book detailing his field world as a police officer in Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods, which was seen in HBO’s The Wire titled, “Cop in the Hood.”  This year he published a sly polemic titled, “In Praise of the Lash” which takes another look at how we punish offenders.  Time magazine’ Ioan Grillo joined us in San Francisco and Manhattan for a stark conversation about the growth of “El Narco,” the drug-fueled insurgency that is slowly strangling Mexico’s national sovereignty.

In Kennedy’s book , Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End to Violence in Inner-City America, he pens an impassioned memoir of how his approach had improved the worst of neighborhoods plagued by drug violence.

Crime is down—but where is it up? When you look at FBI statistics, crime rates—including violent crime—continue to decrease incrementally.  However, this is not the case in some of the roughest urban communities, where an African-American male has a 1:200 chance to getting killed by gunfire. It has devolved to the point where some first responders may think twice before entering into some of the neighborhoods.  Traditional law enforcement of governmental assistance has failed to stem the tide and as a result, these neighborhoods are essentially written off by municipal leaders. As a result, the festering cancer of criminal behavior becomes multigenerational in scope with no jobs, no future, and no hope.


What David Kennedy has done—even though he is an academic as director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice—is to immerse himself into the worst of the neighborhoods and figure out answers to build solutions. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff on “Cleopatra, A Life”/San Francisco—Credo September 12, 2011

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

There’s a great movie line that says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” However, when looking at Cleopatra, her life outpaces any legend.

In contemporary terms, Cleopatra is seen through the refracted lens of Elizabeth Taylor’s Hollywood portrayal.  Bits and pieces were added into the stew throughout the centuries, with generous helpings from Plutarch and William Shakespeare. She wasn’t the classic beauty as seen through modern eyes, but she had the guile and smarts to outmaneuver her enemies and build an empire.  It kept her in power for a generation and launched the persona that remains until this very day.  

Unlike many leaders of antiquity, there are no source documents for Cleopatra’s reign or even her life. Only one word from Cleopatra has survived the centuries, “Genesthoi,” which means, “Let it be done.”   The ensuing stories were written by Cleopatra’s enemies during and after her fall written by Romans and were largely fiction. They portrayed her as the libidinous tramp who used her wiles to entrap and weaken the two main leaders of her generation, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  


Cleopatra, A Life,” written by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Stacy Schiff, takes us into her world by compiling the source documents of that era to give us the best understanding of her times. Wedged into history three centuries after Alexander the Great but only a generation before the birth of Christ, Schiff constructs an ancient world and examines her life—right up to her death. When the facts present two alternatives, she explores them all in great detail. Did Cleopatra die of an asp bite to the breast or by drinking a cocktail of poison? Is either just another piece of fiction that embellishes the legend but hides the fact? Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Veteran Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield on his new book “Then Everything Changed”/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/July 9, 2011


Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Jeff Greenfield likes to say, “History doesn’t turn on a dime; it turns on a plugged nickel.”  As a veteran political commentator for ABC, CBS, and CNN, Greenfield makes the case that we underplay the role of dumb luck and random chance in current events. 

In his new book Then Everything Changed,”Greenfield builds three very plausible scenarios of how minor shifts could generate far reaching results in American politics.

We tend to look at history from the resultant first and walk backwards to explain events in rational detail; C = A + B. However, the events are so fluid and so ever-changing that a close election could go in several different directions because of movements that take place below the waterline.


Kennedy vs. Nixon; Nixon vs. Kennedy. When we look back to the race between Nixon and Kennedy, the narrative always favors the Massachusetts Senator because he won.  However, a simple trip here or a stumble there and John Kennedy would have returned to the Senate; his narrative would have been “too much, too soon.”

Likewise, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt  in Miami Beach in early 1933, a month prior to taking his oath of office. Had he stood a foot to either side of the microphone while giving an impromptu speech, he would have been shot and killed before delivering his first oath of office. Instead the bullet found its way into Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak’s  chest, who was in town and shaking FDR’s hand. Cermak died en route to the hospital; his last words to FDR were, “I am glad it was me and not you.”  Had FDR died, his Vice President—a very conservative John Nance Garner —would have been a very different leader and would have killed any New Deal legislation. The Great Reforms that built The Greatest Generation would have died stillborn. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Former Senator Gary Hart on his memoirs, “The Thunder and the Sunshine”/NY-Prime House November 10, 2010/ LA-Napa Valley Grille, November 17, 2010/SF-Credo November 18, 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Gary Hart has consistently trod the unbeaten path. As a young Denver attorney, he hooked up with George McGovern, the darkest of dark horses, and together rewrote the book on how to win the Democratic nomination. Two years later, Hart ran for the US Senate from Colorado, a state where Nixon had crushed McGovern two years before. He rode the post-Watergate Democratic tidal wave and entered the Senate at the tender age of 37. In 1984, Hart’s own presidential insurgency nearly knocked off Walter Mondale as he challenged Democrats to look to the future instead of their past.

By crafting a candidacy based on “the new,” Hart discovered the door which others, like Clinton and Obama, successfully opened in later contests.  Walter Mondale, on the other hand, represented the past and became a forlorn caricature that Republicans were able to lampoon to a 49 state winContinue reading

The Luncheon Society/James Ellroy and The Hilliker Curse/NY-Prime House September 14, 2010/SF-Palio D’Asti, September 20, 2010/LA-Napa Valley Grille, September 29, 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

“On my 10th birthday,” James Ellroy began, “my mother Jean Hilliker hit me with a book I had read on spells and witchcraft. After that, I summoned her dead. Three months later she was murdered and it is a crime which remains unsolved to this very day. It’s a burden of guilt that I have carried for a half century. My mother, from the hereafter, mediates my relationships with women. Her death induced in me a tremendous curiosity for all things criminal. I had to go out and write.”

And write he did.

Dining with James Ellroy summons a conversation only found in novels written by James Ellroy.  An austere staccato drove the narrative through all three courses, his dialogue came forth in great bursts in each of the three cities, and like in MUCH of his writing over the years, the discussion took several surprising turns.

With that opening line seared into us, The Luncheon Society began its three city odyssey with alpha dog crime writer James Ellroy. Seated next to James throughout was Erika Schickel, the woman who is central to his life and perhaps the key that unlocks The Hilliker Curse, his memoir on how his mother’s grisly death drove the tenor of his relationship with women.

Erika is also a friend of The Luncheon Society who has joined in the past. She also helped organize a wonderful gathering with her father, Richard Schickel, who is one of the best film writers in the industry earlier this year.

No slouch to the printed or spoken word, Erika published a knock-out memoir several years back titled, You’re Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of a Modern Mom, a self portrait of post-hipster life on the suburban plain.  She also wrote a well-received play a decade earlier titled Wild Amerika, a “meditation on mating, monogamy, and motherhood – from a Darwinist point of view.” She is now hard at work on a follow up to her earlier book, tentatively titled “Adult Supervision.”

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/True Prep author Lisa Birnbach/San Francisco-Fior D’Italia/September 22, 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Behind every well-written satire lies a fountain of truth.  In 1980, Lisa Birnbach, then a young feature writer for The Village Voice , found herself working on a project 38 other writers had rejected.

It would be a small book with Workman Publishing, a quirky imprint in Manhattan known more for their calendars and a series of successful “How To” books.  Yet, in the course of ten short weeks, Lisa created what became a field guide for a declining species of an American subculture: preternaturally wealthy WASPS, their tribal customs, behaviors, etiquette, families, and mating rituals. However, as a graduate of Brown and Riverdale Country School , it came as second nature.

When it hit the shelves in October 1980, the initial printing redefined modest. The book cost $4.95 and was sold only in soft cover.  However, 2 ½ million copies and 41 printings later, The Official Preppy Handbook  remained on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 38 weeks. Critics raved and Birnbach demonstrated a sharp eye for social commentary and biting satire. In fact, The Official Preppy Handbook (OPH) remained Workman Publishing’s best-selling title until the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series came along in 1984.  

For a book that has been out of print for a quarter century it has aged rather well, like those featured within its pages.  Copies can be purchased on eBay for as high as $150 and signed copies (like mine) are sold for as much as $250 to $300. Continue reading