Literary Passings: Author/Actor/Playwright Sam Shepard

All Sam Shepard library holdings here.

From a good New York Times overview here:

“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.

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.”

Featured Author: Alice Munro, Short Story Writer

All Alice Munro books here.

Link to the full Munro reference below:

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.

Literary Passings: Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son)

All Denis Johnson books here. 

From this obit:

Denis Hale Johnson was born on July 1, 1949, in Munich. His father, Alfred, worked for the United States Information Agency and was variously posted to Manila, Tokyo and Washington. His mother, the former Vera Louise Childress, was a homemaker.

Mr. Johnson, who studied under the minimalist writer Raymond Carver at the University of Iowa, counted Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot and the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix among his influences, primarily for poetry.

He was sensitive to the “language of people jammed together, like in the military and prisons,” he told the Santa Monica radio station KCRW’s “Bookworm” podcast.

 

 

 

The Debunkers: Pro-Science, Anti-Mystical 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: Abraham Verghese, Medical Nonfiction Writer

All Abraham Verghese books here.

I first became aware of Abraham Verghese through his best-selling book, My Own Country, which chronicled the AIDS epidemic in a small Tennessee city (which also happens to be my hometown). Dr. Verghese wrote the book based on his own experiences, and I can tell you that it is completely accurate.

Since then, Dr. Verghese has gone on to write nonfiction about losing a tennis partner to addiction as well as fiction. Dr. Verghese currently works at Stanford University.

Read more in this biography

 

Passings: Robert Pirsig (Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance)

Link to this obituary:

Robert M. Pirsig, whose novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” became a million-selling classic after more than 100 publishers turned it down, has died.

Pirsig’s publishing house, William Morrow, announced that he died Monday at his home in South Benwick, Maine. He was 88 and had been in failing health.

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was published in 1974 and was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his son, Chris. The book was praised as a unique and masterful blend of narrative and philosophy and was compared by a New Yorker critic to “Moby Dick.” Pirsig, a native of Minneapolis, also wrote “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.”

All Pirsig books here.

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: 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.

Discover Robert Aickman, Suspense Writer

All Robert Aickman books here.

Robert Aickman was a master of the “strange story.” His style is related to MR James and the ghost stories of Henry James, but Aickman has his own voice. Enigma, vibe and alienation are some of his hallmarks.

Literature Resource Center sums up one Aickman story:

In “The Inner Room,” collected in Sub Rosa (1968), a woman narrates the story of an incident from her early childhood in a struggling family that later splits apart. She receives as a birthday gift an enormous dollhouse that contains a mysteriously inaccessible inner room. Later in life, she visits what is apparently the actual house on which the dollhouse was modeled and comes close to discovering a nameless horror in the inner room, which signifies the hidden life of dream–or rather dream as reality, which creates emotional peril when repressed.