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.

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.

Featured Author: Novelist Donna Tartt

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.

Here’s a review of her work (about her famous debut The Secret History) from Literature Resource Center.

“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.”

 

Literary Passings: VS Naipaul, Anglo-Indian Novelist

Our VS Naipaul books here

From this obituary:

Over the years, I have kept coming back to an image: a young writer, a twenty-six-year-old Indian man, sits at a desk in a small flat in Streatham Hill, a modest area of South London. It is 1958, and he is working on a long book that will become, in time, one of the great novels of the twentieth century. The young writer is unimaginably confident and unimaginably vulnerable: privileged in some respects (he went to Oxford, and he knows that he is more talented than his literary peers), utterly powerless in others (he is an Indian at work in the old, disdainful imperial metropolis, but he is not even from India—he grew up in Trinidad, where his grandfather was brought over as an indentured laborer to work on the sugarcane plantations).

This is the first extraordinary fact about “A House for Mr. Biswas,” the masterwork by V. S. Naipaul, who died on Saturday, at eighty-five. This book, so full of comedy and pathos, uncanny wisdom and painful compassion, containing a comprehension both of human motive and of a society’s dynamic that might take most writers a lifetime to achieve, was written by a man in his mid- to late twenties. (The only comparable achievement that comes to mind is “Buddenbrooks,” published when Thomas Mann was twenty-six; Cervantes was probably around fifty-five when the first part of “Don Quixote” appeared.) The young Vidia Naipaul’s compassion—a quality that apparently dried up as he aged—was brought to bear on the life of his father, Seepersad Naipaul, the model for Mohun Biswas. Seepersad, like Mr. Biswas, lived a short life (he died at the age of forty-six) that was both an astonishing achievement and a relative failure, and it is this stereoscopic vision that gives “A House for Mr. Biswas” such shattering power. The achievement was to have raised himself up, from very modest origins, in a tiny society of fiercely limited opportunity, to become a writer, or a kind of writer: Mr. Biswas, like Seepersad Naipaul, became a journalist for the Trinidad Guardian (renamed, in the novel, the Sentinel). But, in the larger scheme of things, Mr. Biswas’s life amounted to little: the Trinidad Guardian was just a local island paper (Seepersad Naipaul complained to his son about the tedious unimportance of most of his assignments); and, though Seepersad, like Mr. Biswas, would live vicariously through his clever children, who won scholarships and left the island to study in England, he himself never left. He ended his brief, circumscribed life in a small house in Port of Spain that, to many people, would resemble a shack—“a box,” writes Naipaul’s biographer, Patrick French. “A hot, rickety, partitioned building near the end of the street, around 7 square metres on two floors with an external wooden staircase and a corrugated iron roof.”

 

Featured Author: Barbara Ehrenreich, Social Journalist (Nickel and Dimed)

Barbara Ehrenreich Is a journalist and writer who is willing to tackle some very tough subjects.  You may have heard of her book Nickel And Dimed: On Not Getting By In America. The author took a series of low paying jobs to see if you could actually make ends meet.  It makes for some pretty interesting reading!

My other favorite book by this author is Bright-Sided.  This book has a very interesting idea: that Americans mistake critical analysis for pessimism and this inability to address our problems damages social discourse.

Recommended for anyone who wants a good read and people interested in current affairs.

Link to review of Nickel and Dimed in Dissent Magazine

Five jobs and three cities later, Ehrenreich concludes that many of today’s jobs don’t pay enough to support one person—much less a whole family. She works two jobs at a time andeats “chopped meat, beans, cheese and noodles.” But in all three cities, rent gets the
better of her economy. “You don’t need a degree in economics,” she writes, “to see that
wages are too low and rents too high.” But this is a mathematical conclusion, which could
have been made with the aid of a calculator. By taking these jobs herself, Ehrenreich is able to capture the material details of workplace indignity.”