I first came across the music of Esquivel when I was managing Apple Records and his CD Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music came in one day. This was at the height of the Lounge craze. After languishing on thrift store shelves for decades, records by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter had become cool again. Stereophonic in the extreme, these recordings featured outrageous panning, Latin rhythms, exotic bird calls, and zany orchestrations. Esquivel was among the best, even employing on one occasion two separate orchestras in two separate studios recorded simultaneously.

Juan Garcia Esquivel was born in Mexico and educated at the UNAM where he took a degree in electrical engineering. Fortunately for us, his engineering career never took off and he turned to music. So successful was he as a recording artist/arranger/composer that it is rumored women would remove their underwear and throw it onto the stage when he performed! His most famous vocal arrangements were often as simple as “zu zu zu” and he was known for injecting vocal punches like “Pow!” into his songs.

I am not always in the mood for Esquivel, but when I am it is so easy to get caught up in the sway and swag of an Esquivel arrangement. I love the horns, the choral work (usually by Van Horne singers!) and the Latin beats joined with lush, sometimes wacky orchestral work. This is the music Don Draper would have played if he’d been a little less of a tight-ass.

Though his music is hard to find on vinyl in used record stores, you can still run across a stray album here and there. The covers are works of art in themselves. Some of my faves are pictured below. If you want a quick introduction, check out Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music on CD. There’s a great, informative booklet included, and some of Esquivel’s best work is featured: Mucha Muchacha, Anna (El Negro Zum Bon), Latin-Esque and many others. 

If you can't judge a book by it's cover, what about the title? Have you ever bought a book because the title grabbed you by the collar and refused to let go? Here are some of my favorites.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities by Delmore Schwartz
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Anos de Soledad)  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid by Malcolm Lowry
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Know of any other great titles?  

Fredric Brown was one of those rare writers. He was at home in both Science Fiction and Mystery. His short story, “Arena,” was the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name. Many of his stories are less than 500 words. His story “Knock” contains as its premise one of the shortest stories ever written (also penned by Brown):

                The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...

Brown goes on to build a complete story around these two sentences, but it’s the sentences themselves everyone remembers.

I first came across Brown’s stories in a volume called Before She Kills. I devoured every story in this slim volume and went looking for more. I got lucky because the next book I found was The Lenient Beast. This novel features a homicidal maniac who kills only those he perceives to be in extreme pain, either physical or emotional. In his mind, these are mercy killings, and he believes himself the instrument of God in ending the lives of tormented people. What fascinated me about this book is that chapters are written from the alternating perspectives of different characters. Still more fascinating is Brown’s depiction of an Hispanic detective who does not fit 1956 stereotypes. His novel, Here Comes a Candle is part narrative, part radio scriLike Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, Brown defied expectations. I often wonder what the general reader who purchased a book by any of these authors off a rack at a bus station must have thought.

Brown was a stickler for plot and was known to hop on a long bus ride to work out the details whenever he got stuck. Many of his works feature surprise endings and unusual twists. I have never found his plots to be artificial, but what I love most are the characterizations.

Brown’s career began in the 1930s and he wrote across genres for decades before his death in 1972. His books are difficult to find used, but I have had good luck checking the clearance sections of major chains; they just don’t know who he is. Below are some of the really great covers to his most famous books. 


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