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October 2011

The Book of Cthulhu: Can It Help You? Can It Hurt You? Will It Improve You?

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The Book of Cthulhu: Can It Help You? Can It Hurt You? Will It Improve You? For those who have been asleep for a long time or simply mindful of Much Different Things—like daffodils, 30 Rock, or cat videos—H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was perhaps the most influential twentieth-century American author of weird fiction. Lovecraft’s fiction did not become popular overnight: he had a cult readership during his lifetime, and readers could be put off by a worldview that reflected the idea of “cosmic horror.” Lovecraft believed that the universe was a cold, hostile place. Despite this, he became increasingly popular, to the point that creations like the Cthulhu Mythos have entered our common lexicon.

The Cthulhu Mythos story cycle has taken on a convoluted, cyclopean life of its own—as evidenced by this latest anthology edited by Ross Lockhart, The Book of Cthulhu, which includes material by the likes of Caitlin R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Bear, and Charles Stross.

These semi-confessional accounts of horror, terror, and the unknown inspired by Lovecraft are…. oddly inspirational and life-affirming. It’s not just that nothing really makes you appreciate Something like life more than being chased by some oozy Shadowy Nothing through a dark forest strewn with odd ruins. A deeper impulse seemed at work, too, in many, many of the stories. Why, there was even what appeared to be useful advice for the modern reader!

Could it be that the lessons taught by Lovecraft were less mechanistic and existential, less hideous and ritualistic, than I had thought? I had to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon—by interviewing the editor... Book of Cthulhu is an anthology of tales inspired by Lovecraft, and yet it’s rumored you’re touting it as a self-help book, too. Was Lovecraft known for his good life advice?

Continue reading "The Book of Cthulhu: Can It Help You? Can It Hurt You? Will It Improve You?" »


Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Benjamin Franklin. Masters of many pursuits, polymaths, Renaissance Men. Not since Nineteen Eighty-Five David Byrne has one man come close to fulfilling this lofty ideal, but John Hodgman is coming awfully close. Among his accomplishments:

Even beyond that, Hodgman has authored the Complete World Knowledge trilogy, the ultimate reference on mole-men, hobo names, and sundry information aspiring to varying degrees of factuality. The final installment, That Is All, arrives November 1, and will drop new knowledge upon the world, including:

  • "How to Make Your Own Wine in a Toilet, Even If You Are Not in Prison"
  • A new list of 700 "ravenous god-things" prepared to re-enter our dimension in 2012 (you may have already met Chthulu Carl, the Tentacled Hobo)
  • "Ted Danson's Secret"

But all this is just an excuse for a books blog to pass along this post from Bon Appétit, wherein they tease an upcoming interview with "America's Last Pilgrim" with a fabulous ANIMATED GIF--possibly the first one created since 1998, at least by someone over 12 years old.



Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?

It's not often that you come across a one-page 51vjIVGga+L._SL500_AA300_smbook--let alone a one-page book that readily conveys information normally housed within thousands of pages of text.

Jess Bachman, a 31-year-old graphic artist, spends two months every year researching and creating Death & Taxes, a stunning visual account of the U.S. federal budget. Bachman breaks down the entire budget into a surprisingly accessible visual story of how money moves in and out of the government.

Death & Taxes packs the entire U.S. federal discretionary budget onto one incredibly detailed 24"x 36" glossy page, covering everything from the National Guard to the National Science Foundation,the Postal Service to the Peace Corps.

Get a close-up look at Death & Taxes, or order your copy now.

YA Wednesday: Teens' Top Ten

As the end of the year draws closer award and "best-of" lists sprout up--though mostly for adult books. With the exception of the National Book Award for Young People's Lit, which consists of 5 (or sometimes temporarily 6) exceptional middle-grade and young adult titles, YA readers wait for the Printz Medal and Honor winners to be announced in January. Even then the books are selected via a rigorous process by librarians and other professionals (a.k.a adults).

So what do teens themselves love? Are they into angels, forbidden love, or the end of society? All of 'em, actually.

As part of the Young Adult Library Services Assocation's (YALSA) "Teen Read Week" the top ten books of the previous year, as nominated and voted on by teens, were announced this past Monday. Check out the winners (and the various videos, interviews, and excerpts hosted on some of their Amazon pages) below. Clockworkangel

  1. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (exclusive interview with Cassie Clare)
  2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Suzanne reads an excerpt)
  3. Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (book trailer + the "original" third chapter)
  4. I Am Number Four by Pittacue Lore (interview between Pittacus Lore + Will Hill, author of Department Nineteen)
  5. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (book trailer)
  6. Matched by Ally Condie (exclusive interview with Ally Condie)
  7. Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson
  8. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  9. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  10. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (interview with Andrea)

Congrats to all, of course, but now we want to hear from you Omni readers. What are your recent favorite YA reads?

(Last but certainly not least keep an eye out for our top 10 of 2011 in YA lit, which will be announced next month.)


Julian Barnes - Man Booker Prize Winner


The wait is over. Julian Barnes has had four novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and finally he has won it. The Sense of an Ending is the eleventh novel Barnes has written under his own name (he also writes nonfiction, and he publishes crime fiction under a pseudonym), and it is as important a book as it is slim. Weighing in at less than 170 pages, The Sense of an Ending is split into two parts. Both are told from the viewpoint of Tony Webster, a man in his sixties, quite ordinary by all accounts, who seems to be coasting into old age, any outward signs of motivation having dimmed years ago. When we first meet him, Tony is recalling his younger, wilder days. In truth, they probably weren’t so wild, but he seems to need these memories as a way to steel himself against the dreariness of the days stretching out before him. The second part of the novel introduces a mystery, throwing doubt on all we’ve learned before. It’s subtle and deftly told, sparked by the introduction of a diary and the reappearance of an old, nearly forgotten first love, and it’s a great testament to Barnes that when the explanation comes — poignant, surprising, and deeply moving — it’s almost a throwaway, just another detail in a long life. The Sense of an Ending is about a man who is in the midst of his own ordinary ending. At the same time, he’s looking back on events to which, through the instability of memory, he’s perhaps given the wrong ending. This is a book about growing older, a story about recollection and regret. Tony Webster is an unreliable narrator, but he is compelling nonetheless. By creating him, Julian Barnes seems to be telling us that we are all unreliable narrators-- but we have our reasons.

J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch Review Barry Eisler's "The Detachment"

The_DetachmentBestselling authors J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch are the co-writers of the thriller Stirred, available on Kindle November 22, 2011, and in paperback on February 21, 2012. We asked them to review Barry Eisler's latest thriller, The Detachment... and did they ever review it. Read on for one of the funniest guest reviews we've seen in a long time:

J.A. Konrath: I'm delighted to be the author asked to do a guest review of Barry Eisler's latest John Rain thriller, The Detachment. I really think this book--

Blake Crouch: Hold on. I thought I was the author asked to do a guest review.

J.A.: You were asked, too? Well, I'm pretty sure I was asked first.

Blake: I doubt that. You were probably the back-up in case I was too busy.

J.A.: I'm 100% positive you were the back-up, because I'm 100% sure I liked The Detachment more than you did. I think it's Eisler's best book, and I really liked the other eight, plus his Kindle short stories The Lost Coast and Paris Is A Bitch.

Blake: I agree The Detachment is his best, and that's not blowing smoke. I read this book on a 12-hour flight, after I'd already been up for 18 hours. Anything less than flat-out riveting and I would've instantly been asleep. It was like literary adrenaline.

J.A.: Well, I was invited to go to the White House to drink beer with Obama, but I said no because I was so engrossed in the story.

Blake: You were not invited to the White House.

J.A.: I was. And the President wanted to give me a medal. But I had to find out how The Detachment ended, so I was forced to decline. That's how much I liked the book.

Continue reading "J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch Review Barry Eisler's "The Detachment"" »

Media Monday - Newspapers, Brains, A Marriage Plot, Van Gogh, and Johnny Depp

Hello, and welcome to Media Monday. Last Monday was Columbus Day, which trumped Media Monday, but it's good to be back. We're in the thick of the serious-literature-and-awards period of the year, what with big celebrated authors being published every week, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature and, among others, the announcements of the Man Booker and National Book Award shortlists.

The New York Times

  • The Sunday Book Review opens with coverage of two books about the same famous media family. The family in question is the Medill family, and they are a mostly unsavory lot. For a (bitter) taste, here's what Joseph Epstein writes about two of the more business savvy Medills: "Socially ambitious, hard on their husbands, cold to their children, rivalrous between themselves, Kate and Nellie Medill took the smile out of Christmas and every other holiday." Nice. Who were these women and where can I learn more about them? Turns out they were once-famous newspaper founders and media titans. They were also mothers. If you're wondering which of these jobs they excelled at, you're in luck -- two books have come out in the past thirty days that outline the triumphs and failures of the Medill family, perhaps the greatest newspaper family ever to have lived in this country. Last month, it was Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson, and this month it's Magnificent Medills: America's Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor. They seem like a royal family that could have taught Machiavelli a thing or two.

  • Jeffrey Eugenides stopped by Amazon today for a reading. As I looked into the crowd, I could see that his audience was genuinely smitten. Another person who seems smitten by Eugenides, even if he doesn't fully want to admit it, is William Deresiewicz, who reviewed The Marriage Plot for the Times. He writes that the book "possesses the texture and pain of lived experience. Eugenides has always been best on young love." And further along in the review, Deresiewicz states, "the novel is also great on the patter and pretentiousness of college intellectuals ('The bookshelves held the usual Kafka, the obligatory Borges, the point-scoring Musil'); on the sweet banter of courtship; on the kind of doormat nice-boy role that Mitchell submits to playing in Madeleine’s life; and especially on what happens after you graduate, when the whole scaffolding of classes and the college social scene you’ve been training your personality around is suddenly taken away, and you have to grope for a new way to be in the world." The Marriage Plot was an October Best Book of the Month.

Continue reading "Media Monday - Newspapers, Brains, A Marriage Plot, Van Gogh, and Johnny Depp" »

National Book Awards update: accidental finalist withdraws

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In the Young People's Fiction category, Lauren Myracle's Shine was accidentally named a finalist last week, announced in place of the real finalist, Franny Billingsley’s Chime. Rather than snatch the honor back from Myracle, judges initially expanded the category to include six finalists.

Today, Myracle withdrew her book from the competition, saying she was pressured to do so late last week by the National Book Foundation. "I was over the moon last week after receiving the call telling me that Shine was a finalist for the award,” Myracle said in a statement.

“I was later informed that Shine had been included in error, but would remain on the list based on its merits. However, on Friday I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation (NBF) to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work, and I have agreed to do so."

National Book Foundation executive director Harold Augenbraum has acknowledged that they asked Myracle to withdraw to preserve the integrity of the awards process and because "the judges' choices need to be respected." He told Publisher's Marketplace "we made a terrible mistake."

Read more at the Huffington Post and the LA Times.

See all 2011 National Book Award finalists. See more award winners.


The Making of a Monster: From Dragons to Lady Gaga


Remember when I said that villains represent the socially unacceptable? Monsters are the epitome of the socially unacceptable, engaging in such rude acts as eating people, stealing gold, and worse, lookin’ weird. But of course, being socially unacceptable is in many ways a human construction: one person’s monster is another’s with a cause. Once you understand what your monster says about your story, and where it fits into society, you can give your monster everything it needs to help you emphasize your point.Makingamonster

In times of uncertainty, when we’re fighting for survival, people yearn for simpler times, when evil is evil and good is good, and monsters are giant evil dragons who eat people. Who wants to wrestle with moral ambiguity in their fantasy when it’s haunting them in reality? A dragon with bad halitosis who kills for funsies is about as black-and-white as it gets. Almost no one will question your slaying something so unquestionably vile. From this tradition stems the tale of the monster Grendel in Beowulf, the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, and the nearly inconsequential dragon Siegfried defeats in the Nibelungenlied.

But when we aren’t fighting for survival, monsters have been deftly transformed into tools to question society’s rules for defining what is monstrous. Lady Gaga’s little monsters, for instance,  represent the willingness to break societal rules in order to embrace new values.

When you sit down to make a new monster, there are many things you need to consider. Like how many people you have to eat to qualify as “irredeemable,” and whether the phrase “needlelike teeth” is overused. Because fundamentally, monsters are just like any other character, hero or villain. In order to write them well, you need to understand their motivations, figure out where they’re coming from, and identify with them.

Continue reading "The Making of a Monster: From Dragons to Lady Gaga" »

Amazon Exclusive: An Interview with Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick is a mad genius. That’s mad, mind you, in the very best sense of the word. Selznick’s last book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, won the prestigious Caldecott Medal and is coming to the big screen on November 23rd--prime family movie-going time.  Anyone who’s cracked open Hugo has been met with the unique reading experience of detailed black & white illustrations powerful enough to tell the story with great nuance and a fraction of the text you would expect in such a hefty package.  It’s a book you want to hold, flip through, and cherish. 

So it is again with his long awaited new book, Wonderstruck.  An Amazon Best Book of the Month in September, Wonderstruck is truly a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages in the same way adults and children share the thrill of watching a magician astonish us over and over again.  Selznick is just such a magician. His books are a unique visual experience, and in Wonderstruck his parallel story lines--one in text, one in pictures--took up residence in my mind and haven’t left in the months since I first had a chance to read a proof of the book earlier this year.  A highlight of my trip to Book Expo America in New York this year was a chance to meet and talk with Brian. You can watch the video interview below, or find out more about Wonderstruck, including this interview, here.  One other thing I’ll mention--you can’t see it in the video, but he is wearing the most remarkable shiny red shoes.  Just thought you should know.--Seira