Women Writers

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If there is one field where I believe the playing field between women and men is level, it’s the profession of writing. Both sexes have hit it out of the park with their stories and books.

I wondered about this, that is, until I read a review of Michelle Dean’s new book: “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion.” Here’s how the review begins:

One must have a mind of winter,” Wallace Stevens writes in his poem “The Snow Man.” It’s the cold eye that beholds, without sentimentality or fear, “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” In “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion,” the journalist Michelle Dean has rounded up 10 minds of winter, all of them female, all of them prominent writers whose criticism, long-form reporting, fiction and satire have shaped thinking on world events and cultural dramas: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. Dean gathered these women together, she says in her preface, “under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: They were called sharp.”

It is, of course, a compliment with an edge. Call a man “sharp” and he’s stylish, incisive, smart. Apply it to a woman, Dean writes, and there’s a “sense of terror underlying it. Sharpness, after all, cuts.” A virtue of her book is that it shows how each woman, by wielding a pen as if it were a scalpel or a scimitar, confounded the gender norm of niceness and placed her analytical prowess front and center. Among 20th-century intellectuals, “men might have outnumbered women, demographically,” Dean writes, but “in the arguably more crucial matter of producing work worth remembering, the work that defined the terms of their scene, the women were right up to par — and often beyond it.” I agree with her.

Want more? You can read the full review here

A Review of The Coronado Conspiracy from Rotor Magazine

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We Are Vulnerable!

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Full disclosure, Dick Couch has been a friend and mentor for decades. Additionally, we have co-authored three New York Times best-sellers: Act of Valor, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes, and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire. Dick is enormously talented – even gifted – but now we should add “prescient” to his list of attributes. Here’s why.

Shortly after the attacks on America of September 11, 2001, Dick, in cooperation with agent John Boswell, began work on a book: “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual.” No one knew if there would be more attacks on the United States, but if there were, Dick wanted Americans to be ready.

Thankfully, there were no more major attacks on the United States in the years following 911, but Dick knew there could be in the future. Now, in today’s political climate, “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual” is flying off shelves and onto e-book readers. Why? Because Americans are fearful – and they have a right to be.

This book is a great way to protect yourself and your family. Here is a link

Turning Assignments into Stories

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Recently, a U.S. Navy SEAL turned his active duty experiences into a work of fiction entitled “Bring Out the Dog: Stories.” Author Will Mackin’s book will likely delight. Here is how John William’s New York Times review begins:

“I felt proud that I’d fought, or something like proud, but also glad it was over.” That’s the narrator of one story in Will Mackin’s debut collection, “Bring Out the Dog.” During his time in the United States Navy, Mr. Mackin was deployed with SEAL teams on assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When he came home, he relied on notes he kept during his time in combat to write these stories, three of which have appeared in The New Yorker. Mr. Mackin talks about the experiences that inspired the book, why he chose to write fiction, a Pink Floyd lyric that has influenced his life and more.

You can read the full review here

We Are What We Read

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Many of us who are avid readers of John Sutherland’s books naturally gravitated to his piece on the front page of the New York Times book review earlier this year.

He reviewed two new books:

THE WRITTEN WORLD: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization, by Martin Puchner, and THE SOCIAL LIFE OF BOOKS: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home, by Abigail Williams.

Of the two, his review of Puchner’s book had the most to offer from my perspective. Here is part of what he shared:

“Literature,” the first page declares, “since it emerged 4,000 years ago,” has “shaped the lives of most humans on planet Earth.” We are what we read.

“The Written World” makes this grand assertion on the basis of a set of theses. Storytelling is as human as breathing. When fabulation intersected with writing, stories were empowered to propagate themselves in society and around the world as civilization-forming “foundational texts.”

Puchner opens, by way of illustration, with Alexander the Great. Under his pillow at night he had, alongside his dagger, a copy of the “Iliad.” His literary GPS, we understand. As important as the epic’s originally oral story of great conquest was the script it was written in: That too would conquer worlds. This review is printed in a variant of it.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Best Books

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One thing many of us look forward to on Sundays is to read the New York Times Book Review section. Here, outstanding writers offer their opinions on new books. They never seem to miss.

For much the same reason, we look forward to the Times year-end “best books” list. For 2017, the list is especially rich. Here is how the article begins:

This was a year when books — like the rest of us — tried to keep up with the news, and did a pretty good job of it. Novels about global interconnectedness, political violence and migration; deeply reported nonfiction accounts of racial and economic strife in the United States; stories both imagined and real about gender, desire and the role of beauty in the natural world. There were several worthy works of escapism, of course, but the literary world mostly reflected the gravity and tumult of the larger world. Below, The New York Times’s three daily book critics — Dwight Garner, Jennifer Senior and Parul Sehgal — share their thoughts about their favorites among the books they reviewed this year, each list alphabetical by author. Janet Maslin, a former staff critic who remains a frequent contributor to The Times, also lists her favorites.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Lost Wars

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The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 profoundly change America’s national security equation – perhaps forever.

Those attacks spawned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and these have all-but-consumed the U.S. military for more than a decade-and-a-half.

There have been several books – some good and some less so – that have tried to help us come to grips with not only why we embarked upon these wars, as well as why we can’t “win.”

Andrew Bacevich’s review of Daniel Bolger’s book, “Why We Lost,” offers some key insights. Here is how he begins:

The author of this book has a lot to answer for. “I am a United States Army general,” Daniel Bolger writes, “and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.” The fault is not his alone, of course. Bolger’s peers offered plenty of help. As he sees it, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, abysmal generalship pretty much doomed American efforts.

The judgment that those wars qualify as lost — loss defined as failing to achieve stated objectives — is surely correct. On that score, Bolger’s honesty is refreshing, even if his explanation for that failure falls short. In measured doses, self-flagellation cleanses and clarifies. But heaping all the blame on America’s generals lets too many others off the hook.

Why exactly did American military leaders get so much so wrong? Bolger floats several answers to that question but settles on this one: With American forces designed for short, decisive campaigns, the challenges posed by protracted irregular warfare caught senior officers completely by surprise.

Since there aren’t enough soldiers — having “outsourced defense to the willing,” the American people stay on the sidelines — the generals asked for more time and more money. This meant sending the same troops back again and again, perhaps a bit better equipped than the last time. With stubbornness supplanting purpose, the military persisted, “in the vain hope that something might somehow improve.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Intellectual Property

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There was a time when movies were based on either a book (typically a very good book) or an original screenplay (typically by a great screenwriter). That was then, this is now.

I’d always had the notion that something was changing, but Alex French’s article in the New York Times magazine, “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game,” so revealing – and so frightening. Here how he began:

In 2013 a movie producer named Tripp Vinson was thumbing through Variety when he stumbled upon a confounding item: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a pair of writers and directors, were working on something called ‘‘The Lego Movie.’’ Vinson was baffled. ‘‘I had no idea where they were going to go with Legos,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s no character; no narrative; no theme. Nothing.’’

Since Vinson got into the business, something has changed in Hollywood. More and more movies are developed from intellectual property: already existing stories or universes or characters that have a built-in fan base. Vinson thinks it started in 2007, when the Writers Guild went on strike. ‘‘Before the strike, the studios were each making 20-­something movies a year,’’ he says. ‘‘Back then, you could get a thriller made. After the strike, they cut back dramatically on the number of films they made. It became all about I.P.’’ — intellectual property. With fewer bets to place, the studios became more cautious. ‘‘The way to cut through the noise is hitching yourself onto something customers have some exposure to already,’’ he says. ‘‘Something familiar. You’re not starting from scratch. If you’re going to work in the studio system, you better have a really big I.P. behind you.’’

This trend toward I.P.-­based movies has been profound. In 1996, of the top 20 grossing films, nine were live-­action movies based on wholly original screenplays. In 2016, just one of the top 20 grossing movies, ‘‘La La Land,’’ fit that bill. Just about everything else was part of the Marvel universe or the DC Comics universe or the ‘‘Harry Potter’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Wars’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Trek’’ universe or the fifth Jason Bourne film or the third ‘‘Kung Fu Panda’’ or a super-­high-­tech remake of ‘‘Jungle Book.’’ Just outside the top 20, there was a remake of ‘‘Ghostbusters’’ and yet another version of ‘‘Tarzan.’’

Want more? You can read the full article here

Number Crunching

Writing Techniques

It was bound to happen sooner or later – and later is now! Literature has met big data. Are we ready for it?

I’d always “suspected” something was afoot, but it hit me like a two-by-four when I read a recent New York Times article: “Reading by the Numbers: When Big Data Meets Literature.” Here is part of what this intriguing article offered:

Most literary criticism is grounded in close reading, with scholars poring over individual texts to tease out subtle meanings. But to truly grasp the laws of literature, Mr. Moretti has argued in a series of polemics, requires “distant reading”: the computer-assisted crunching of thousands of texts at a time.

It’s a pie-in-the-sky idea, perhaps, but one that Mr. Moretti has put into practice. Since 2010, Stanford Literary Lab, which he founded with Matthew Jockers, has issued a string of pamphlets chronicling its research into topics ranging from loudness in the 19th-century novel to the evolving language of World Bank reports.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Printing Press and iPhones

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If you read only one article this week, read, “The Phone Is Smart, but Where’s the Big Idea?” Here’s just a taste:

I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze of Geneva’s Old Town, in search of a handmade machine that changed the world more than any other invention. Near a 13th-century cathedral in this Swiss city on the shores of a lovely lake, I found what I was looking for: a Gutenberg printing press.

“This was the Internet of its day — at least as influential as the iPhone,” said Gabriel de Montmollin, the director of the Museum of the Reformation, toying with the replica of Johann Gutenberg’s great invention. It used to take four monks, laboring in a scriptorium with quills over calfskin, up to a year to produce a single book.

With the advance in movable type in 15th-century Europe, one press could crank out 3,000 pages a day. Before long, average people could travel to places that used to be unknown to them — with maps! Medical information passed more freely and quickly, diminishing the sway of quacks. And you could find your own way to God, or a way out of believing in God, with access to formerly forbidden thoughts.

The printing press offered the prospect that tyrants would never be able to kill a book or suppress an idea. Gutenberg’s brainchild broke the monopoly that clerics had on scripture. And later, stirred by pamphlets from a version of that same press, the American colonies rose up against a king and gave birth to a nation.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here