A Novelist for the Ages

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This summer we lost one of the icons of American literature, Toni Morrison. Lovely obits have been carried in national – and international – media.

But it was Ross Douthat’s recent op-ed that caught my eye. He explained the enormous impact she had on all of us. Here’s how he began:

Toni Morrison was a great American novelist who was also a Great American Novelist. This means she had a special form of celebrity, an oracular status, and also that she was embraced by the tradition that regards novels as keys to interpreting America — insisting that you must read Morrison (and Ellison and Wright and Hurston) to understand the black experience, just as you must read Hawthorne and Melville to understand the legacy of Puritanism, or Faulkner or Cather to understand the South or West, and so on down the high-school English list.

So her passing raises the question: Is she the last of the species? The last American novelist who made novels seem essential to an educated person’s understanding of her country?

That question won’t be answerable for decades — the time it took to exhume, for instance, “Moby-Dick” and “The Great Gatsby” from their temporary graves. We can’t know how Morrison’s reputation will change, or the reputations of her peers or the status of their art form. The American novel was supposed to be eclipsed long ago by movies and television … and yet it proved resilient enough that, coming of age long after TV, I was still imprinted with the idea that novels were essential cultural ground, as important as Spielberg or “The Sopranos.”

But something has changed in the cultural status of the novel in the time I’ve been a reader, the years between Morrison’s canonization and her passing — and maybe especially the years since social media and the iPhone first arrived.

Check out this link to read more

Murder, She Read

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Who reads about true crime? The statistics don’t lie. And Kate Tuttle explains WHY in her essay. Here is just a snippet:

A 2010 study found that around 70 percent of Amazon reviews of true-crime books are by women (compared with books about war, where 82 percent of the reviews are by men). Something is going on here, but what? Men, the statistics tell us, are involved in violent crime — as perpetrators and victims alike — in much larger numbers than women. When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors. Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.

At the most basic level, true crime satisfies that little-kid desire to see beneath the surface of everything. As a child, I was often ashamed of my curiosity, which always seemed to go in socially unacceptable directions. I’d reach for a stick to explore a dead fish at the edge of a pond. I yearned to learn taxidermy. Grown-ups smiled when I said I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but I knew better than to tell them my main motivation: I wanted to see everyone naked. As a teenager, I liked nothing better than testing my ability to withstand upsetting things.

Want more? You can read the full article here

La Jolla Writer’s Conference

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Want to get your book published and read by a wide audience? The La Jolla Writer’s Conference is the premier writing conference in San Diego and books up fast. Hear from the professionals who can jump start – or accelerate – your writing journey.

Memoirs!

Books George Galdorisi

Over the past fifty years, different kinds of books have gone in and out of vogue. What was popular as little as ten years ago is now completely passé.

But one kind of book has remained popular – often wildly so – over the past half-century. That genre is the memoir. There are many reasons why.

But there are so many choices. Where to you start? Wouldn’t it be great if someone compiled a list of the best memoirs?

Someone has. The New York Times’s book critics select the most outstanding memoirs published since 1969.

There is something here for everyone.

Check out this link to find a memoir to read in the waning weeks of summer

Hold the Obits!

Opinion The Comeback of the Century The New York Times

Over the past decade, countless obituaries have been written for books. Many were convinced the printed book would soon suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs.

Hold the obits!

The printed book is making a huge comeback. I had been aware of this in bits and pieces, but am grateful to Timothy for helping with some perspective. Here’s how he began a recent op-ed:

Not long ago I found myself inside the hushed and high-vaulted interior of a nursing home for geriatric books, in the forgotten city of St.-Omer, France. Running my white-gloved hands over the pages of a thousand-year-old manuscript, I was amazed at the still-bright colors applied long ago in a chilly medieval scriptorium. Would anything written today still be around to touch in another millennium?

In the digital age, the printed book has experienced more than its share of obituaries. Among the most dismissive was one from Steve Jobs, who said in 2008, “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

True, nearly one in four adults in this country has not read a book in the last year. But the book — with a spine, a unique scent, crisp pages and a typeface that may date to Shakespeare’s day — is back. Defying all death notices, sales of printed books continue to rise to new highs, as do the number of independent stores stocked with these voices between covers, even as sales of electronic versions are declining.

Nearly three times as many Americans read a book of history in 2017 as watched the first episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones.” The share of young adults who read poetry in that year more than doubled from five years earlier. A typical rage tweet by President Trump, misspelled and grammatically sad, may get him 100,000 “likes.” Compare that with the 28 million Americans who read a book of verse in the first year of Trump’s presidency, the highest share of the population in 15 years.

So, even with a president who is ahistoric, borderline literate and would fail a sixth-grade reading comprehension test, something wonderful and unexpected is happening in the language arts. When the dominant culture goes low, the saviors of our senses go high.

Want more? You can read it here

Iraq Misadventure

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Volumes have been written about America’s misadventure in Iraq. Those books vary in quality as well as readability.

I recently read one that was insightful and made me think. My interest was stirred by a book review of Michael Mazarr’s new book, “Leap of Faith.”

Mazarr’s subtitle, “Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy,” likely tells you where his book is headed, but here is more from the review:

The operative word in the title of “Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy” is the last one: tragedy. Drawing on extensive interviews with unnamed “senior officials” as well as recently declassified documents, Michael J. Mazarr attributes the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 to good intentions gone awry. Here is an example of “America’s worthy global ambitions” that went “terribly wrong.”

The Iraq war was not a tragedy. It was more like a crime, compounded by the stupefying incompetence of those who embarked upon a patently illegal preventive war out of a sense of panic induced by the events of 9/11. An impulse to lash out overwhelmed any inclination to deliberate, with decisions made in a “hothouse atmosphere of fear and vulnerability.” Those to whom President George W. Bush turned for advice had become essentially unhinged. Iraq presented an inviting opportunity to vent their wrath.

The handful of officials who shaped policy after 9/11, writes Mazarr, a political scientist currently with RAND, were “not evil or pernicious human beings.” Instead, Mazarr credits them with acting in response to a “moralistic sense of doing the right thing.” Viewed from that perspective, “the Iraq war decision was grounded in sacred values,” even if the evil and pernicious consequences of that decision continue to mount.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Founding Fathers

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Few Americans – or others for that matter – would argue that the American Revolution was one of the most iconic events of the last millennium. But we tend to have mixed feelings about the men (all men) at the center of the revolution.

That’s why I found Rick Atkinson’s recent piece, “Whey We Still Care About America’s Founders,” so compelling. Here is how he begins:

There’s a lot to dislike about the founding fathers and the war they and others fought for American independence.

The stirring assertion that “all men are created equal” did not, of course, apply to 500,000 black slaves — one in five of all souls occupying the 13 colonies when those words were written in 1776. Nor was it valid for Native Americans, women or indigents.

And yet, the creation story of America’s founding remains valid, vivid and exhilarating. At a time when national unity is elusive, when our partisan rancor seems ever more toxic, when the simple concept of truth is disputed, that story informs who we are, where we came from, what our forebears believed and — perhaps the profoundest question any people can ask themselves — what they were willing to die for.

What can we learn from that ancient quarrel? First, that this nation was born bickering; disputation is in the national genome. Second, that there are foundational truths that not only are indeed true, but also, as the Declaration of Independence insists, “self-evident.” Third, that leaders worthy of our enduring admiration rise to the occasion with acumen, grit, wisdom and grace. And fourth, that whatever trials befall us today, we have overcome greater perils.

There is a great deal more in his piece, which you can read at the link below, but if you are interested in the American Revolution, here are two books I highly recommend:

  • “1776” by David McCullough
  • “Six Frigates” by Ian Toll

Want more? You can read it here

Richard Holbrooke

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Volumes have been written about the Cold War, America’s involvement in Vietnam, and other issues that have led to what has generally been called, “The End of the American Century.”

But much of this has focused on the history and not the participants. Until now. Walter Isaacson’s review of “Our Man” a new book by George Packer focuses on a man at the center of it, American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, one of the most iconoclastic statesman of the last half-century. Here is how he begins:

Richard Holbrooke was a large man with gargantuan appetites — for food and women and movies and acclaim and, above all, diplomatic and undiplomatic maneuvering — appetites that struggled to feed an outsize ego that was matched only by his insecurities. As the last great freewheeling diplomat of the American Century, Holbrooke, with his turbocharged zeal and laughable lack of self-awareness, earned fervent admirers and fevered enemies, including a few longstanding colleagues who fell passionately and paradoxically into both camps. In fact, Holbrooke himself was caught in this duality of being his own most fervent admirer and worst enemy (although when someone once commented that he was his own worst enemy, a national security adviser he had worked with snapped, “not as long as I’m around”).

Want more? You can read it here

Too Busy?

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Full disclosure…I am busy. Really busy! Or am I? I always pine for some relaxation, but feeling the need to do one more thing usually overwhelms me.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent review of a book “How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” Here’s how it begins:

In 2015, Jenny Odell started an organization she called The Bureau of Suspended Objects. Odell was then an artist-in-residence at a waste operating station in San Francisco. As the sole employee of her bureau, she photographed things that had been thrown out and learned about their histories. (A bird-watcher, Odell is friendly with a pair of crows that sit outside her apartment window; given her talent for scavenging, you wonder whether they’ve shared tips.)

Odell’s first book, “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” echoes the approach she took with her bureau, creating a collage (or maybe it’s a compost heap) of ideas about detaching from life online, built out of scraps collected from artists, writers, critics and philosophers. In the book’s first chapter, she remarks that she finds things that already exist “infinitely more interesting than anything I could possibly make.” Then, summoning the ideas of others, she goes on to construct a complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto.

Though trained as an artist, Odell has gradually become known for her writing. Her consistent theme is the invasion of the wider world by internet grotesqueries grown in the toxic slime of Amazon, Instagram and other social media platforms. She has a knack for evoking the malaise that comes from feeling surrounded by online things. Like many of us, she would like to get away from that feeling.

Odell suggests that she has done this, semi-successfully, by striking a stance of public refusal and by retraining her attention to focus on her surroundings. She argues that because the internet strips us of our sense of place and time, we can counter its force by resituating ourselves within our physical environment, by becoming closer to the natural world.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Deadly Reviews

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Since my primary passion is writing, I tend to hang out with other writers. We share our aspirations and ideas, hopes and fears.

I don’t know any writing friend – or any writer for that matter – who doesn’t fear a bad review of his or her book. Negative reviews cut like a knife.

That’s why I was cheered by a recent New York Times article revealing that books we admire – FAMOUS BOOKS – soared in spite of scalding reviews.

That should give us all a confidence that in spite of a negative review on Amazon or Good Reads we should KEEP WRITING.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the reviews of these books here