Literary Passings: Toni Morrison (Beloved)

Our Toni Morrison holdings here.

From this obituary:

Toni Morrison, who has died aged 88, was the only African American writer and one of the few women to have received the Nobel prize for literature. The announcement of her 1993 award cited her as a writer “who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”. In her acceptance speech Morrison emphasized the importance of language “partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as an agency – as an act with consequences.”

She expressed her own credo, and indicated the core preoccupations of her fiction, in the fable at the heart of her speech, where she imagines young people telling an old black woman: “Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created … For our sakes and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light … Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.”

Staff Picks: Ralph Steadman, Illustrator of Hunter Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

All Steadman books here.

If you’ve ever read Hunter Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell’s Angels) you’re probably aware of the cover art that captures Thompson’s fevered prose perfectly. I’ll let Ralph Steadman himself in the following article explain the synthesis:

“When I arrived at something I wanted to draw. I’d stop reading and draw it right then. It’s like arriving at a cafe or a truck stop: You don’t go any further. No pencils, otherwise you lose the virgin moment. I was using a pen, although sometimes I’d whack the art with a brush, when I wanted a big flash of ink, because it explodes on the paper. The drawings were what we call A-1 size over here — that’s American letter-size paper, times eight.

The idea of the cover was a motorbike flying over the journalists in a bar. There was also a landscape, a bit of sky. But the rider was completely attached to his motorbike, almost swallowed up by his gearbox. The second cover, for Part Two of “Fear and Loathing,” the magazine chose the picture of the 250-pound Texan necking with his wife in the back row. After those two issues, Rolling Stone had a blueprint of where to go next: It wasn’t only rock & roll, but something different, something social and political.

It was wonderful to do printing that was so primitive — and to finally have a job where the remit was to be weird.”

Literary Passings: Gene Wolfe

Sci-fi master Gene Wolfe passed away in April of this year.

Here’s a link to our holdings at the library.

From this obituary:

Between 1970 or so and the turn of the century, through a seemingly unending flow of novels and stories, the American science fiction writer Gene Wolfe, who has died aged 87, enjoyed a creative prime more intense and rewarding than any of his contempories.

Wolfe became famous for the polish and skill of his more conventional seeming sci-fi, though even early readers detected complexities under the surface. There were hints of the more hidden master, a dark artificer whose haunted, potent myths about human destiny have increasingly attracted the kind of intense study more usually given to authors outside the sci-fi field such as William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon.

In Wolfe’s work, some very deep issues of identity and destiny secretly shape that dream. Seemingly innocent children who know us too well were frequently found in his early work, though he almost never wrote for younger readers. The tales assembled in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980) and The Wolfe Archipelago (1983) are exemplary.

His full-length fiction plumbs the same depths, but expresses the soundings very differently. The finest of his novels, some of them published in several volumes, are invariably told in the first person by highly unreliable narrators, no longer children, ancient beyond their years. Usually their stories are presented as manuscripts passed down to us over time through unknown channels.

 

The Debunkers: Pro-Science Resources

Bending spoons with your mind. ESP, ouija boards, telekinesis, psychic surgery, and alien artifacts. These are some of the magical beliefs that some people claim have been ” proved.”

Ahem.  I started thinking about this the other day when I saw this article in Slate featuring the Amazing Randi –  the original Mythbuster. Randi was a professional stage magician who delighted in exposing frauds such as psychic spoon-bending Uri Geller.

Following in the footsteps of the Amazing Randi were several pro-science, anti-magical thinking public figures.

Here are some further resources for you:

Skeptical Inquirer.

Featured Author: Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree, Shaft)

All Gordon Parks books here.

Gordon Parks was a multi-talented photographer, writer, film director, and more.  Not only does Gordon Parks have a critical reputation as a photographer, he also directed the movie Shaft, wrote The Learning Tree, and co-founded the magazine Essence.

Here’s a more detailed biography from Ebscohost:

His first books were the instruction manuals Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits (1948). His books also include five collections of his photos accompanied by verse, including Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera (1968) and Eyes with Winged Thoughts (2005). Born Black (1971) is a collection of his biographical essays, with photographs. One of his photo essays for Life led to his book Flavio (1978), about a poor, gravely ill Brazilian boy for whom he was instrumental in obtaining lifesaving medical treatment.

Parks wrote three novels: The Learning Tree (1963), a best-seller based on his childhood in Kansas, the historical novel Shannon (1981), about Irish immigrants in the early 1900s, and The Sun Stalker (1981), a fictionalization of the life of the British painter J. M. W. Turner. He published the memoirs A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), and A Hungry Heart (2005) and the quasi-memoir Half Past Autumn (1997), published in conjunction with a touring exhibition of his photos.

Parks became the first African-American to write, produce, and direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio when he made the screen version of The Learning Tree (1969). In Hollywood he later directed the hit blaxploitation action-thriller Shaft (1971) and its sequel Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), the action-comedy The Super Cops (1974), and the film Leadbelly (1976), about the folk singer/guitarist Huddie Ledbetter. On TV he directed several hour-long documentaries, including The World of Piri Thomas (1968) and the Emmy Award-winning Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), as well as the made-for-TV movie Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (1985), about a northern-born black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s. He himself was the subject of the TV documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000). In 1970 he helped to found the monthly magazine Essence.

 

 

Featured Author: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)

All Martin McDonagh Books and films here.

Did you enjoy the film In Bruges? Discover the world of Martin McDonagh.

From this interview

Thinking about being Irish only came into my life when I decided to write Irish plays. Before that I tried to write a few re-workings of Irish fairy tales, or myths I’d heard growing up. But none of them were specifically Irish at that point. The whole history of Irish storytelling didn’t really come into it, and has only come into it in the last two or three years. So I couldn’t say that it had any kind of influence at all. It’s interesting when I hear it said about the stuff I do, but honestly I couldn’t say there is an awful lot of truth in it. If I was Italian or Luxemburgian, they would be the same stories. It depends on the way you see the world, to me anyway, more than the way you’ve been brought up or your history of storytelling. I suppose most of my storytelling influences weren’t Irish, they were mostly American films. Novel-wise, and short-story-wise, mostly American or, like Borges, South American. I didn’t read many Irish books or short stories when I was younger, I read what my brother had, and they were mostly American books. So Irish stuff didn’t have any kind of influence really, certainly not when I was growing up. Now it’s become a bit more clearly defined, but even now, I’m more aware of the idea of Irish storytelling, the tradition, but I still haven’t studied it or taken enough time out to actually see what it’s all about. Although I am interested in the general myth of the Irish storyteller and I’ve just finished the third play in the trilogy that begins with The Cripple of Inishmaan. It isn’t as good as the other two but it’s all about the Irish storytellers, the seanchais. I find it interesting to play around with that from a fictional point of view. And it’s interesting to play around with it. Now that I am an Irish storyteller, I’ve told Irish stories. It’s interesting to come back and see things with that perspective, knowing that there were Irish storytellers in the countryside telling the myths, the stories, the legends. I think that was the spark that gave me the idea for The Banshees of Inisheer. But it would be phony of me to say I have anything to do with Irish storytelling. The plays are Irish stories, and I hope someday they’ll be recognized as Irish stories . . . But for me, now, I feel kind of phony. Maybe I’m just having a bad morning. I hope someday they’ll be regarded as true Irish stories, I don’t think they are at this minute. It will take a long time for the baggage of me being a Londoner to be in the past.

Featured Author: Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)

All Neal Stephenson books.

Futurist and groundbreaking author focusing on what we now call the net, computer viruses, globalization, and virtual reality.

Review/plot of Snow Crash (Hoo-boy, this isn’t for everyone!):

In Neal Stephenson’s cyberspace, called the Metaverse, the 120 million richest people in the world conduct their pleasure and business blithely unaware that L. Bob Rife, the owner of the fiber-optic network they all use, is plotting their domination. Meanwhile, Hiro Protagonist, a hacker who wrote some of the earliest software for the Metaverse, prowls about looking for intelligence to sell in an information-overloaded age. Hiro has a debt to pay: He owes the Mafia-run CosaNostra, the twenty-first century version of Domino’s Pizza, the cost of a new delivery car. Before he can repay his debt, he is swept up into a larger adventure. At the urging of his still-intriguing former lover Juanita, he begins investigating a new drug, Snow Crash, that has rendered his former partner, Da5id, brain dead. The ominous part about Snow Crash is that it affects the brain when administered in the Metaverse; in a twist on the typical relationship, the virtual determines the real.

With the help of Y.T., a Kourier who meets Hiro on the fateful night he wrecks his car, Protagonist steps on the trail of Snow Crash in both real and virtual life. In the former, he traces the path of Raven, an atomic-bomb-toting Aleut who seems to be the source of Snow Crash. In the latter, he employs a nearly omniscient virtual librarian to investigate the drug’s extensive history. He discovers that Snow Crash is not a drug at all but a modern manifestation of an ancient metavirus that provides access to deep structures in the brain that control individuals. Prior to the fall of Babel, all people spoke a language that used this infrastructure and thus lived in a static culture. The Sumerian priest Enki released humanity from the metavirus by uttering an incantation, or nam-shub, that reprogrammed the brain so that people could no longer understand the deep language. Consequently, multiple languages developed.

Featured Author: Walter Kirn (Up In The Air)

All Walter Kirn books here

Walter Kirn is an American novelist and journalist who has written for several prominent magazines as well as being the author of Up In The Air (which was made into an excellent film starring George Clooney).

His most recent book is Blood Will Out (link to a review of the book, signin required) –  a fascinating nonfiction account of his relationship with a con man with a murderous past. Excerpt from the review linked above:

“Powerful people fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center.Kirn was targeted for something else. At certain moments of lucidity, Kirn self-flagellates over his phony pal, and the reader feels a little sorry for him. (Yeah, yeah, but first: “In 1975, when I was twelve, my family packed a U-Haul van, snapped a Yale padlock on its rear loading door, and left predictable rural Minnesota for burgeoning, anarchic Phoenix.” Even Walter Kirn‘s hardware is pedigreed.) Kirn writes, “Maybe my egotism was a homing beacon. Maybe it made me a more attractive mark.”

This was the central characteristic of Rockefeller’s frauds–and Crowe’s, and Chichester’s, if not Gerhart’s: their puffed-up prey. The prey who needed some insecurity polished by having nobility, American or otherwise, within their lives. There were the wealthy old ladies threatened by the middle-class-ification of their town. There were the Wall Street men who wanted to employ a broker who was to-the-manor-born and had connections in Hollywood. Then there was the management consultant who wound up leading her firm’s work for Michael Bloomberg and Charles Schumer; her Rockefeller connection could not have hurt her there. And of course there was the educated, snobby journalist on the make, looking for a story and an entrée into society. The people who accepted Gerhartsreiter in his various grandiose guises had hustles of their own. Powerful people within a nation ostensibly impervious to aristocracy fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center. Gerhartsreiter’s joke was on them.”

Featured Author: Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a fascinating thinker, economist, urban studies and public policy theorist. Her work addresses the growth of cities and their economies.

Here are some interesting ideas she poses in her work The Economy of Cities.

Why adding new work to old work is crucial to growing an economy (instead of merely dividing existing work more)

Why loosely structured and inefficient economies are better suited to survive change.
Why cities predated agriculture as we know it.
How cities can replace imported goods with their own industries.
Why some villages grow into cities and some do not.
How the design of urban spacies can either promote order or hinder it.

If you are studying urban studies, public policy or economics you need to read her.

For some reason, she has two entries in the catalog. One here, the other here.