It’s the time of year to read a scary story.
Bill Hicks was one of standup comedy’s true originals. Utterly fearless in a time of social conformity during the 1980s and early 1990s, Hicks’s observational comedy still leaves a searing touch.
Felled early by cancer, Hicks’s comedy lives on.
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.
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.
Moneyball is about an unlikely success: how the cash strapped Oakland A’s baseball team found ways to win without the ability to afford highly priced skills. One simply must find players with unusual and overlooked talents. One does this by identifying talents that no-one else can see – a tough business in a 100-year old game that few thought held any more secrets.
Those people were wrong. Baseball did have secrets. And these were ferreted out by Bill James, an eccentric and charming former night watchman from Kansas. Famed business writer Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker) tackles the subject of how the Oakland A’s turned baseball shibboleths on their head by using these unconventional insights gleaned from reams of statistical data.
For Moneyball is a story about how insight into statistics can uncover hidden patterns and exploit the holes in conventional wisdom. The A’s used new data that redefined critical aspects of the game and what made a good player effective. And then they found these stealth players whose contributions to the game had been hidden in history.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s very important to realize that things are not always what they seem. It’s also a great way for people to learn to think about the behavior of numbers and stats – even if they’re not about baseball.
Donna Tartt (link to our books here) s a best selling author whose principal theme is the moral seduction of working class innocents who are drawn into the world of glamorous but dangerous wealthy people.
“The Secret History is less a mystery–the killers are revealed on the first page–than “an exploration of evil, both banal and bizarre,” in the words of Martha Duffy in Time. The story is narrated by Richard Papen, a transfer student who disavows his own middle-class upbringing to gain entrance into an elitist circle of students. “The gradual moral seduction of Richard is all the more cleverly revealed by its depiction in his own voice,” commented Andrew Rosenheim in the New York Times Book Review. As Richard becomes accepted by the group, he learns that four out of the five other members had participated in the bloody murder of a farmer who interrupted their late-night “bacchanal.” When one among the small coterie threatens to betray this dark secret, that person, too, is killed. “Tartt shows a superior sense of pace, playing off her red herrings and foreshadowings like an old hand at the suspense game,” Duffy stated in Time. In the New York Times Book Review, Rosenheim praised Tartt’s “skillful investigation of the chasm between academe’s supposed ideals and the vagaries of its actual behavior” and further commented that her prose was “at once lush and precise.” Nancy Wood, reviewing The Secret History in Maclean’s, believed that Tartt “is strongest when she finds poetry in everyday events: the sights and smells of a campus, the familiarity of certain television shows.” The Secret History, Wood concluded, “stands out as well written and original.”
Brian Aldiss, a British science-fiction writer whose inventive tales of climate change, alien civilization and the loneliness of robots — including a five-page magazine story that formed the basis of Steven Spielberg’s movie “A.I.” — helped elevate a genre many critics had long dismissed as mass-market pulp, died Aug. 19 at his home in Oxford, one day after turning 92.
A daughter, Wendy Aldiss, said he had a stroke in 2016 and had a pacemaker in his heart — “which he loved, because it made him part robot.”
Mr. Aldiss was part of sci-fi’s 1960s New Wave period, when writers such as Arthur C. Clarke (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) and J.G. Ballard (“The Wind From Nowhere”) wrote books that featured politically charged themes and experimental literary techniques.
“Buried Child” (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and remains Mr. Shepard’s best-known work. It arrived on Broadway in 1996 and has been revived many times since — the most recent staging, by the New Group Off Broadway in 2016, starred Ed Harris. Richard Eder reviewed the premiere, at the small Theater for the New City downtown:
Sam Shepard does not merely denounce chaos and anomie in American life, he mourns over them. His corrosive images and scenes of absurdity never soften to concede the presence of a lament, but it is there all the same.
Denunciation that has no pity in it is pamphleteering at best and a striking of fashionable attitudes at worst, and it is fairly common on the contemporary stage. Mr. Shepard is an uncommon playwright and uncommonly gifted and he does not take denouncing for granted. He wrestles with it at the risk of being thrown.
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.”
Alice Munro is one of Canada’s major writers and one of the best short-story writers anywhere. While she tried writing a novel with Lives of Girls and Women, her preferred form is the short story. She argues that a novel implies a continuity that is not mirrored in the lives of real people, who seem to move disjointedly from one experience to another. With the short story she can focus on the “intense . . . moments of experience” that constitute a life. With the exception of one novel, all of her published works have been collections of short stories.
The majority of Alice Munro’s stories are set in Canada, often in southwest Ontario, now sometimes called “Munro Country,” the region of her childhood. Her hometown of Wingham, Ontario, becomes Hanratty in Who Do You Think You Are?, Dalgleish in The Moons of Jupiter, or Jubilee in Lives of Girls and Women. The rural countryside, the poverty-stricken small towns, the farms, and the salt mines are well documented, as is the Canadian climate, which can be bleak, dark, and foreboding with its bitter cold, its snowstorms, and its ice. Even though some stories might be set in Victoria or Toronto, generally the protagonist has moved to the city and still retains some provincialism. Similarly with the stories set in Australia or Scotland, the protagonist is Canadian and comes into these new environments with Canadian eyes. In all of Munro’s stories, the reader gets a clear sense of place, whether the story is set in the Canada of today, of a hundred years ago, or of somewhere in between. In many cases the past and the present are juxtaposed so that there is a sense in which the past, though distant, is always present.
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