I just finished season one of Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorcese’s series set in prohibition era Atlantic City, and am dying for more. I love good immersive TV experiences (and saving money with library DVDs), but in the end you’re as bereft as if you’d just finished a satisfying long novel. So I put together a couple of lists in our library catalog featuring fiction and non-fiction about the place and era, or othewise redolent of the magificent blend of showiness, sin and squalor that Scorcese depicts so well.
In addition to a number of titles about Atlantic City in its garish heyday, the non-fiction list includes Daniel Okrent’s excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as well as Ken Burn’s recent documentary on the subject and Whispering Wires, a look at our own local bootlegging history and the notorious Roy Olmstead. There are fine biographies of gangsters Arnold Rothstein (and the Black Sox scandal) and the early career of Al Capone. David Pietrusza’s 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents offers a window into the politics of the time. I’ve even thrown in an eBook travel guide to Atlantic City, where you’ll find the street names familiar if you’ve ever played Monopoly.
The fiction list runs farther afield, from Nick Tosches’ novel about Arnold Rothstein, King of the Jews, to Joseph March’s 1929 verse novel The Wild Party, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories to fine period crime novels such as Ace Atkins’ Devil’s Garden or Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, as well as titles by a pair of literary novelists who really should be better known to crime fans: Craig Holden’s The Jazz Bird and Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. The maniacal, gawdy sideshow pandemonium of Kevin Baker’s Coney-Island set Dreamland is mirrored in Nathanael West’s classic Hollywood novel, The Day of the Locust, and the withering social critiques of classic noir like Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? It is no mistake that the corrupt 1920s gave rise to hardboiled fiction, in the the rat-a-tat-tat prose of Black Mask stories, or the sordid pages of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a cleansing bloodbath set in a town so corrupt it is called Poisonville. I even found a little-known novel about Warren G. Harding’s mistress.
There’s lots more, so take a look at these lists of Fiction and Non-Fiction, put something suitable on the stereo, pour yourself a nice legal soft drink (or not), and settle in with a good book (or movie) to await the next season in style.