Featured Author: Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)

Our books here.

Background from this article

Murakami grew up, mostly, in the suburbs surrounding Kobe, an international port defined by the din of many languages. As a teenager, he immersed himself in American culture, especially hard-boiled detective novels and jazz. He internalized their attitude of cool rebellion, and in his early 20s, instead of joining the ranks of a large corporation, Murakami grew out his hair and his beard, married against his parents’ wishes, took out a loan and opened a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. He spent nearly 10 years absorbed in the day-to-day operations of the club: sweeping up, listening to music, making sandwiches and mixing drinks deep into the night.

His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter — an American transplant named Dave Hilton — hit a double. It was a normal-/enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced ”Hear the Wind Sing,” a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman. Nothing much happens, but the Murakami voice is there from the start: a strange broth of ennui and exoticism.

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: Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)

All Chuck Palahniuk books here.

Chuck Palahniuk is best known as the author of Fight Club, the classic novel that was also made into a classic film. The novel opens with the memorable line “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s bushmen got into my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.”

From there on we learn the tale of a milquetoastish individual who discovers his Nietzschean will to power via the machinations of the mysterious Tyler Durden. The first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club.

The author also went on to write several equally unusual books. Link above.

Staff Picks: Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley)

Patricia Highsmith is best known for her crime novels The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers On A Train – both made into classic films. But she also wrote a lot of other novels and short stories that feature such disparate subjects as animals taking revenge on cruel people, giant snails, and icy and claustrophobic tales of daily life.

In fact, it was the giant snails that got me as a kid. A professor goes in search of legendary giants snails on a Pacific Island and, well, he does find them.

There’s also the dinner party at which the host’s cat brings in a finger, a mysterious furry thing that lives in the birdhouse that may or may not have gotten into the narrator’s house and lots more stories guaranteed to put a chill in your heart.

All Highsmith books here..

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.”

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.”

 

Book Review: The Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs

I can recommend wholeheartedly The Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs.

This book pretty much sums up the current cutting edge approach to presentations – honesty, passion and preparation.  External appearance doesn’t matter so much as authenticity.

There are also tips on how to organize a presentation. For example, define an enemy or problem and show the audience how your idea overcomes the problem.  Also create an a-ha moment that the audience can take home with them mentally.

Along the way, the book also discusses the correct use of slide images and text behind you and the correct use of props. Lots more in this one – check it out.