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: Michel Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles)

Michel Houellebecq books here.

A good introduction from this article:

Michel Houellebecq is, simply, a satirist. He likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening. That’s what satirists do. Jonathan Swift saw that the English were treating the Irish as animals; what if they took the next natural step and ate their babies?

Houellebecq is not merely a satirist but—more unusually—a sincere satirist, genuinely saddened by the absurdities of history and the madnesses of mankind. He doesn’t “delight in depicting our follies,” as reviewers like to say; he’s made miserable by them. French reviews and American previews of “Submission” might leave one with the impression of a sardonic, teeth-baring polemic about the evils of Islam, the absurdities of feminism, the terrible demoralization of French life. In truth, the tone of the book is melancholic rather than polemical. Life makes Houellebecq blue. “The totality of animals, the crushing majority of men, live without ever finding the least need for justification,” his narrator, a literature professor at the Sorbonne, reflects. “They live because they live, and that’s all, and that’s how they reason—and then I suppose they die because they die, and this, in their eyes, ends the analysis.” That’s Houellebecq’s typical tone; the book’s virtues lie in his mordant, disabused eye for depressing details of French life.

Even if, sentence by sentence, Houellebecq is not a writer to envy, certainly he does have a voice of his own, one of slightly resigned sociological detachment. In the very first pages of the new book, he remarks, apropos the uses of a university degree in literature, that “a young woman applying for a job as a saleswoman at Céline or Hermès will, in the first place, have to take care of her appearance, but a literature degree could constitute a secondary attribute pleasing to the employer, suggesting a certain intellectual agility that might indicate a potential evolution of her career—literature, in place of useful skills, still has a positive connotation in the domain of the luxury industry.” You master Proust to become a better salesgirl, and what else would you expect? The commodification of the world and the art and the people in it leaves Houellebecq unexcited.

 

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: Karel Capek (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

All Karel Capek books here.

From Literary Reference Center

Karel Čapek is remembered today for his popularization of the word “robot,” actually first used by his brother Josef in his short story “Opilec” (1917) and used by Karel in R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, which was first produced in Prague in January, 1921. The word is from the Czech robota, meaning compulsory service or work. Popularizing this word, however, was certainly not Čapek’s most notable professional achievement. A deeply philosophical man, professionally trained as a philosopher, Čapek was the first Czech writer to attract a broad international audience for his works, particularly for his expressionist drama, which has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world.

A versatile intellectual, Čapek, during his years on the staff of Lidové noviny, the most influential Czech newspaper, demonstrated by the excellence of his writing that journalism can be an art. He wrote on a broad range of subjects, from Persian rugs to gardening to drama and art. Čapek was also an incisive political thinker who wrote stirring political essays, but his political sentiments achieve a more universal expression in his plays and novels, particularly in such plays as R.U.R., The Insect Play, and Power and Glory and in the novels of his trilogy comprising Hordubal, Meteor, and An Ordinary Life. His novel most familiar to English-speaking audiences is The War with the Newts, which builds directly on much of the social criticism found in R.U.R. and in The Insect Play and which presents one of the earliest direct literary attacks on Hitler. His trilogy has attracted considerable interest for its manner of dealing with the infinite diversity of the human personality.

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..

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Literary Passings: E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime)

All Doctorow books here.

From the obituary in The Guardian:

He did not want to be called a political novelist. “My premise is that the language of politics can’t accommodate the complexity of fiction, which as a mode of thought is intuitive, metaphysical, mythic.” Although he wrote lovingly of the lost world of the Jewish Bronx in the 1930s, where he grew up, he rejected the idea that he was an autobiographical writer. “Every book is an act of composition,” he remarked in 1989, “and if you happen to use memories or materials from your own mind, they are like any other resource; they have to be composed. And the act of composition has no regard where the material comes from. So when it’s all done it’s all autobiographical and none of it is.”

Doctorow wrote a handful of the most influential historical novels of the past half-century, but was determined not to be known simply as a historical novelist. Praised for having “done his homework” on the American Civil war for The March (2005), he claimed that he did little research, freely inventing when the historical record seemed somehow incomplete. There is a moving letter in The March sent by the Union generalissimo William Tecumseh Sherman to a Confederate general whose son was killed in battle. But no such letter was ever written.

John Nash, An Appreciation. Author Of Game Theory, Subject of the film A Beautiful Mind

John Nash, a principal originator of game theory, and the subject of the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind was recently killed in an automobile accident.

John Nash titles here. Our copy of a Beautiful Mind here.

Among many contributions, Nash was famous for the Nash equilibrium in game theory. From the obituary in the Guardian:

“In his discipline, he gave his name to the Nash equilibrium – a position in a situation of competition or conflict in which both sides have selected a strategy, but where neither side can then independently change their strategy without ending up in a less desirable position.”