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: 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: 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.

 

 

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.”

 

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: Frank Luntz (Words That Work)

What Americans Really Want 
Words That Work 

Frank Luntz is a political consultant who pioneered studying how people react to words – instead of actions. He was a master at calculating how people perceive a problem and packaging policies – both corporate and political -that met those expectations.  You didn’t have to change your actual policy!

He’s also very good at finding the gulf between people’s stated values and their actual values and exploiting that.

We have two of his books here.  Interesting guy and a must read for marketers.

Learn to Identify Historical Forgeries

If a newly discovered photo of a famous person has pencil writing on the back, that’s a mark against it being real. Why? Ink is easy to date, and the age of lead is almost impossible to measure. So forgers often use pencils.

You should check out author Joe Nickell – he got started as a forensics investigator and then moved on to investigate historical document forgeries and real-life X-files (always with a skeptical mind of course).

Here’s the table of contents for his book Real or Fake?

pt. I. Documents — Investigating documents — Diary of Jack the ripper — Novel by an American slave — Lincoln’s lost Gettysburg address — An outlaw’s scribblings — Out of the archives — pt. II. Photographs — Photo sleuthing — A second photo of Emily Dickinson — Likenesses of Lincoln — Assassin or look-alike — From the album — pt. III. Other artifacts — Authenticating artworks and other artifacts — Lost icon found — Jefferson Davis’s musket — Debris from the Titanic — Off the shelf.

Highly recommended for the historian’s thought process. Clues reside in the strangest places: a turn of phrase, hairstyle, kind of stamp, anachronisms, as well as technical analysis of ink, paper, handwriting styles and more.

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.