Literary Passings: Tom Wolfe

Our Tom Wolfe holdings here.

From the NPR obituary:

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Tom Wolfe wrote fiction and nonfiction best-sellers including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Along the way, he created a new type of journalism and coined phrases that became part of the American lexicon. Wolfe died Monday in Manhattan. He was 88.

Wolfe didn’t start a novel with a character or a plot, but rather, with an idea. In 1987, wearing his signature white suit, Wolfe told me how he began his first novel, a panoramic story of New York Society:

“I looked at the whole city first,” he said. “I wanted to do New York High and Low. I figured Wall Street could stand for the high end, and also some of the life on Park Avenue. And at the low end, there would be what you find caught up in the criminal mechanism in the Bronx. Once I zeroed in on these areas, I would then find the characters.”

The novel that grew out of Wolfe’s research — The Bonfire of the Vanities — was the tale of Sherman McCoy, a wealthy bond trader who loses everything after a wrong turn in the South Bronx with his mistress in the passenger seat. It was a huge critical and commercial success. Wolfe had written the novel from the same “you are there,” stream-of-consciousness, first-person perspective that he pioneered in his nonfiction 20 years earlier.

Literary Passings: Philip Roth

Our Philip Roth material here.

From the New York Times obituary:

The Nobel Prize eluded Mr. Roth, but he won most of the other top honors: two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize.

In his 60s, a time of life when many writers are winding down, he produced an exceptional sequence of historical novels — “American Pastoral,” “The Human Stain” and “I Married a Communist” — products of his personal re-engagement with America and American themes.

And starting with “Everyman” in 2006, when he was 73, he kept up a relentless book-a-year pace, publishing works that while not necessarily major were nevertheless fiercely intelligent and sharply observed. Their theme in one way or another was the ravages of age and mortality itself, and in publishing them he seemed to be defiantly staving off his own decline.

Mr. Roth was often lumped together with Bellow and Bernard Malamud as part of the “Hart, Schaffner & Marx of American letters,” but he resisted the label. “The epithet American-Jewish writer has no meaning for me,” he said. “If I’m not an American, I’m nothing.”

And yet, almost against his will sometimes, he was drawn again and again to writing about themes of Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience in America. He returned often, especially in his later work, to the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, where he had grown up and which became in his writing a kind of vanished Eden: a place of middle-class pride, frugality, diligence and aspiration.

 

Featured Author: Rsyzard Kapusckinki, World Journalist/Storyteller

Interested in writing nonfiction, international journalism, or some of the best reportage ever put on paper?

Check out our Rsyzard Kapusckinki books (yes, we have them in English).

Kapusckinki wrote about colonialism in Africa, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Soccer War in Central America (my personal favorite and you’ll have to get the book to get the whole story).

Often travelling outside the major cities, Kapusckinki regales us with stories of lemonade stands in Central Asia, the circular logic of policeman at an African road checkpoint, mountains of frozen ice from perpetually broken pipes in Siberia, and his comical attempts to navigate a city during a wartime blackout.

Featured Author: Jim Thompson (The Grifters, The Getaway)

All Jim Thompson books here

Jim Thompson wrote a lot of dark crime thrillers set in the southwest.  They are classic American noir: doomed characters, cheap hotels, lonely towns – the works.  Since you are living in San Marcos, you should know that one of his most famous novels – The Getaway – was made into a classic film that was partially filled right here in San Marcos!

From Contemporary Popular Writers

The Getaway (1959) provides a telling example of just how Thompson can alter the boundaries of normal crime fiction; it begins as a relatively orthodox big caper novel about the usual daring and capable crook who plans a perfect crime that inevitably goes awry. He takes the premise much further, however, when the criminal mastermind, Doc, must escape by, among other difficulties, being buried alive and tunneling through excrement–a characteristic Thompson touch–before ending up at the perfect hideout, an expensive resort designed especially for crooks on the lam. Once there, however, Doc realizes that he has descended into a version of Hell itself, truly a last resort.

Some of Thompson’s titles, like A Swell-Looking Babe (1954) and A Hell of a Woman (1954), suggest the rather quaint raciness and directness of his pulp antecedents; others, like The Killer inside Me (1952) and The Nothing Man (1954), neatly sum up the perversity and emptiness of his vision. Like the later Pop. 1280 (1964), which it resembles in plot, narrator, and murder-by-murder progression, The Killer inside Me details the virtually motiveless violence of a pure psychopath, a man who is almost beautiful in his entirely conscious, unsullied madness. The narrator-protagonist, Deputy Lou Ford, beats women for his (and sometimes their) sexual pleasure, commits a series of brutal murders, and, most horribly, enjoys conversing in a series of exaggeratedly idiotic platitudes that mock his listeners, readers, and perhaps even himself. His thoroughly insincere harangue about sending black people back to Africa, as well as his reiteration of sentiments about clouds with silver linings, heat and humidity, rain bringing rainbows, and so forth, betray his cunning madness and his wholesale hatred better than all his terrible violence. Even worse than the banality of evil, for Thompson, is the conscious banality of its utterance.

Extending its despair even further than The Killer inside Me, The Nothing Man may serve as the best example of Thompson’s vaunted nihilism. Its protagonist, a newspaperman named Clinton Brown, who talks occasionally like Lou Ford, has suffered essentially the same war wound as Jake Barnes; his lack of a penis defines his nothingness and impels him to destruction. He drinks, scorns, hurts, and kills, but is so much a nothing man that he cannot even get himself blamed for the crimes he commits; his doom is to continue his life as a nothing man.

Although his style often breaks down into the mixture of urgent pacing and heavy facetiousness of too many pulp writers, and his dialogue seems less acceptable than his narration, Thompson’s characters, actions, and themes underline the originality of his achievement. Within a narrow and violent world his work attains a special and most disturbing originality; some of his peers write better, but none, like it or not, attains so bleak a vision of human emptiness.

Featured Author: Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Moneyball)

Michael Lewis is one of America’s best known financial writers.  His book Moneyball was made into a motion picture starring Brad Pitt, and his book The Big Short iwas recently made into a movie. He is also the author of the book Blind Side, which was made into a very successful movie.

All Michael Lewis books here.

Here are a couple of books by Michael Lewis that I’ve written about previously.

Liar’s Poker is an account of the high pressure deals on Wall Street during the 1980s. The author, Michael Lewis, was a bright and very young recent college graduate who suddenly found himself making insane amounts of money trading bonds on the floor of Salomon Brothers.

Lewis recounts his adventures in learning to trade the market, the profane culture of the brokerage, and playing Machiavellian office politics. It’s pretty dramatic, with lots of high stakes deals, backbiting and secret alliances, and the stench of greed. It’s also how the financial world operates.

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.

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.”

Staff Picks: Matt Taibbi, Financial and Political Journalist

All Matt Taibbi.books herre.

Matt Taibbi makes the world of finance and Wall Street accessible, profane and funny.

Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia is a good place to start to understand how many believe that derivatives and lack of regulation is damaging our financial system. Especially if you like your economic explanations to come with four letter words.

Taibbi – a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone – chronicles our national transition into a casino, where financialization of the economy takes precedence over allocating capital and actual work.

The result? Higher prices for food and oil, government officials paid to look the other way, and a towering edifice of credit and collateral debt swaps supported by a tiny amount of actual capital.

(By the way, that real capital has been sold and leased a hundred times over, so real ownership is unclear at best).

Features a great chapter that explains collateral debt swaps, and the musical chairs aspect of this form of financial insurance.

There’s also a chapter about the ideology of the elite, and its growing influence in what is supposed to be a democracy under rule of law.

Highly recommended.

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.