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March 2012

"Don't Put Me In, Coach" - Author and Ohio State Basketball Player Mark Titus on Final Four Day

For four years, Mark Titus sat the bench for the Ohio State men's basketball team. In that time, it appears he was paying attention, honing his powers of observation (and a sense of humor), and starting a blog about his experiences that would eventually become a book. We asked him a few questions on the eve of the Final Four:

    Omni: Do you know anyone out there on the court this year?

    Mark Titus: I know all of the guys on the team pretty well, but the only current player who I played with is William Buford.

    Omni: Did any of them hurt you in practice?

    Mark Titus: Will never hurt me in practice, but Dallas Lauderdale, who was a senior on last year’s team, fractured my foot my junior season (which put me out for 12 weeks) and tore up my shoulder my senior season (which ended my career and I had to get surgery to fix).

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    Omni: What’s the response to your book been like from the Ohio State community?

    Mark Titus: Pretty much every Ohio State fan that I’ve heard from has enjoyed it because it gives them an inside look at some of the best OSU teams and players in the history of the program. My goal in writing the book was to give readers an honest idea of what it’s like to be on a top-notch Division I basketball program, and for the most part I think I accomplished that. I wrote the book solely for 18-34 year old guys, so some people who don’t fit that demographic aren’t fond of my crude sense of humor. But that’s primarily the only criticism the book is getting, which is perfectly fine by me.

    Omni: Did sitting on the bench make you funnier?

    Mark Titus: Yes and no. I’ve always been the class clown and the guy who screwed around at practice, even when I was the best player on my high school team. But being a benchwarmer created a lot more opportunities for me to goof off because I didn’t have to take things as seriously as I did when I was the best player. Also, because it was so hard for me to earn my teammates’ respect on the court since I wasn’t as good at basketball as they were, I thought that being funny would make it easier for them to accept me, so I was always thinking of jokes and funny things I could do to gain their respect that way.

    Omni: You were drafted by the Harlem Globe Trotters. Did you play for them? If so, what was that like? If not, why not?

    Mark Titus: I didn’t actually play for them, but I did go to a 3 day mini-camp on Long Island and got to train with the team a little bit. It ended up not working out for a variety of reasons that I fully explain in the book, but the gist of it is that they weren’t exactly as glamorous or professional of an organization as I had thought they were.

    Omni: If Ohio State doesn’t win on Monday, who will it be and why?

    Mark Titus: Kentucky, because they’ve been head-and-shoulders better than every other team in the country this year.

We Are Talking About This.

Sweet_FartsLet's talk about Sweet Farts. I'm guessing we're mostly grownups here, but we are going to talk about the series of books called Sweet Farts. Sweet Farts by Raymond Bean.

Like many of you (as I imagine you), Sweet Farts is not something I ever contemplated picking up. Aside from being 43 years old, I also never contemplated bringing it home to my five-year-old, since I thought only the worst could come from it, as parents--especially parents of boys--should instinctively know.

I try to take several multi-day backpacking trips every summer, and last year my son started expressing interest in camping. I decided a light introduction was in order, so I took him to a "resort" in the Cascades--a compound of nine rustic cabins at the northern edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, all lacking electricity and the usual civilized amenities. The caretakers met us at the parking lot and drove us up the mountain on a deeply rutted eight-mile logging road, dropping us off with our packs and cooler at our tiny A-frame called Larkspur. 

And then it rained. Not your typical Pacific Northwest drizzle, but a socked-in-drops-the-size-of-hummingbirds mountain storm. We made a couple of easy forays into the forest and called it good, deciding to wait out the rain till morning, but in the morning, it was even worse. Suddenly I was looking at 24 hours in a 20x10 unelectified box with an easily bored pre-K jaguar. Edmond Dantès never had it so bad.

In a move of total desperation, I reached for my Kindle, which I had brought in order to catch up with my unread pile of virtual New Yorkers. (By the way, that's the biggest benefit of the Kindle that I have found: there's no guilt in an invisible stack of unread magazines.) Incredibly, I had one bar of reception, and given the weather, maybe only one chance to get it right. It had to be something that would take some time to read aloud, while absolutely guaranteed to keep him entertained. Sweet Farts.

I started reading, my son predictably doubled over at all of the expected places. But while I was reading, I learned something else about Sweet Farts: it's actually about teaching scientific method. As it turns out, the protagonist--Keith--is a fourth-grade boy with a perception problem. That is, he's mistakenly fingered as the perpetrator of several heinous gas attacks, and accordingly ostracized and dubbed "S.B.D." by his classmates. Rather than play the victim, Keith takes the offensive, planning a series of experiments designed to eliminate the foulest odors of human gas. A quest to find the titular Sweet Farts.

Still with me?

Author Raymond Bean (a nom de plume) is a school teacher, so we may infer that he is an expert in the field. He takes the experiments seriously, and Keith's hypothoses and test results are rigorously documented. By the end, the reader has a good sense of the process required to reach sound conclusions based on a series of testing and iteration.

Also, there are lots of fart jokes, and my kid loved it. So Mr. Bean seems to be onto something where it comes to getting kids interested in reading. After the jump, take a look at his five tips to encourage young people to develop a lifelong love of words in the age of video games and infinite cable TV. And check out all three Sweet Farts books, as well as other titles by Raymond Bean.

Comments? Let 'em rip.

Continue reading "We Are Talking About This." »

The Arthur C. Clarke Awards Controversy: Internet Puppies, Rant-Analysis, and Christopher Priest

51EcN8wBZeL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_There may never have been a time in human history that lacked some type of literary controversy; no doubt someone objected to the ridiculous story told by a particular set of cave paintings back in the day. But the swiftness of the internet has allowed the modern version of such controversies, and the discussion of them, to reach critical mass in scant hours, eliciting reaction worldwide.

The latest blow-up concerns critically acclaimed and award-winning author Christopher Priest’s denunciation of the just-released Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist ballot. The Clarke Award rewards the best science fiction published in the United Kingdom, and Priest believes the judges did a bad job, citing Lavie Tidhar’s Osama and Simon Ings’ Dead Water as better possible choices (some would also include Priest’s novel The Islanders). But, further, Priest apparently believes this is a dereliction of duty so severe that the judges should be sacked immediately and the award retooled.

Who are these benighted finalists, ironically receiving so much more attention now that Priest has called them out?

Continue reading " The Arthur C. Clarke Awards Controversy: Internet Puppies, Rant-Analysis, and Christopher Priest" »

R.I.P. Harry Crews, Gritty Southern Raconteur (1935-2012)

CrewsH-1In the tradition of William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell, Harry Crews was a raconteur with a gift for making art of the poverty, violence, and grotesquery of his native South, his raucous novels about wrecked but sympathetic souls earning him a peculiar place among the greats of Southern Gothic literature.

After a long illness caused in part by a couple motorcycle accidents, Crews died Wednesday at his home in Gainesville, Fla. He was 76.

Prolific and diverse, Crews wrote plays, short stories, essays, and novels--about traveling evangelists, rattlesnake rodeos, midgets, and violent alcoholics. In Car, he portrayed a man who eats an entire Ford Maverick, four ounces at a time. But he displayed an earnest empathy for his damaged-goods characters, many of whom who sought an escape from their bitter hardships.

Crews1Like his fictional characters, the man lived a rough life. As a toddler he was bedridden with an undiagnosed illness that caused paralysis and spasms, prompting visits from faith healers and gawkers. Around age 6 he fell into a cauldron of boiling water used to skin slaughtered hogs. He served three years in the Marine Corps, and on the G.I. Bill studied at the University of Florida with the novelist Andrew Lytle, who deeply influenced his writing. He and his wife, Sally, married and divorced twice. One of their sons, Patrick, drowned in a neighbor's pool at age 4.

Crews3In his 1978 memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, Crews wrote elegiacally about his birthplace--a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road--and paid homage to rural South Georgia, "all its loveliness and all its ugliness." According to the Wasington Post, he had been working on another memoir at the time of his death.

 

Over the years, Crews had also written gritty stories for Playboy and Esquire, where he penned a column called "Grits," covering such Deep South topics as cockfighting and dog fighting. (Some of those essays can be found on Crews' website.) Before retiring in the 1990s, Crews had taught writing for many years at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

See all of Crews' books at Amazon.com. Read his obituary in the Washington Post or New York Times.

Suggested soundtrack for reading Crews: Drive-By Truckers.

 

What to Read While Waiting for Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" (Plus, Bonus Interview with Colson Whitehead)

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I've only seen a few episodes of "The Walking Dead" (I have a weekend marathon viewing planned for the near future). But I have friends who swear by the show, who aren't quite sure what to do now that the second season has ended. You could say they're in shambles. A few of them have asked me what to read while they wait for Season 3. So here's a list of some good zombie books that I'm aware of, as well as a conversation I had with Colson Whitehead a few months back when his zombie novel Zone One was coming out. I noticed that he cites The Walking Dead graphic novels as one of his influences. If it's also one of yours, you may like a book or two on this list.

Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section here or on Facebook.

 

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  • World War Z by Max Brooks

  • If you haven't read this one, you should. It's one of the books that started off the whole zombie craze in which we find ourselves. Oh, and it's going to be a movie starring Brad Pitt. This is first-rate, unputdownable reading.

Continue reading "What to Read While Waiting for Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" (Plus, Bonus Interview with Colson Whitehead)" »

Reese Witherspoon to go "Wild" -- as Cheryl Strayed

Strayed-author-photo_customIt's not often that a book about hiking makes the New York Times cry and prompts actress Reese Witherspoon to bid on the film rights. But of course, Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is more than a hiking book. Amazon senior editor Jon Foro, reviewing it for our March Best Books of the Month list, called Wild "a story that inhabits a unique riparian zone between wilderness tale and personal-redemption memoir."Wild

 

Strayed launched a cross-country book tour last week and during a visit with Amazon talked about the unexpected waves of attention her memoir has earned, from Vogue (with an illogically unrecognizable Photoshop version of Strayed) to NPR to this week's glowing New York Times review (which left Dwight Garner teary-eyed).

 

"I've heard over and over from people who've said, 'I have no interest in hiking or the outdoors, or any of this stuff, and I loved your book'," Strayed said over lunch. "People just want a good story."

And Strayed's story--Into the Wild crossed with Eat, Pray, Love, as some have called it--is a captivating tale.

 

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London Peculiar: Essential Nonfiction from the Iconic Michael Moorcock

London PeculiarFrom mainstream realism and surrealism to fantasy, science fiction to swords & sorcery, Michael Moorcock has done it all. Honored as one of the most iconic British writers of the post-World War II era, Moorcock has already won several lifetime achievement awards—even as he continues to produce vibrant and relevant work. His latest book, from PM Press, is London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction, and features an introduction by novelist Iain Sinclair.

This collection features the best of Moorcock’s nonfiction, with an emphasis on 2006 onward, but with plenty of material representing the full span of his 50 years of work. In addition to insight into Moorcock’s own literary output, readers will find excellent appreciations of Angela Carter, J.G. Ballard, and Thomas Disch, along with great essays on music and politics. A selection of introductions and reviews carefully chosen by Moorcock and PM editor Allan Kausch round out London Peculiar.

The most personal sections of the collection can be found under the headings of “London” and “Other Places.” The title essay, “London Peculiar,” is an impassioned relating of Moorcock’s memories of wartime London and the architectural “improvements” that occurred in rebuilding the city after the war. It is beautifully complemented by a longer rumination entitled “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” which will fascinate readers. Other essays on London include “Heart and Soul of the City,” “Building the New Jerusalem” and “City of Wonderful Night.”

The variety on display in London Peculiar reflects several core strengths: curiosity, passion, a need to understand the past, a compulsion to spin entertaining yarns, and a restless intellect always engaged in sharp and insightful analysis.

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Adrienne Rich, Influential and Award-Winning Poet (1929-2012)

RichAdrienne Rich, known for her passionate antiwar poetry and her fierce defense of women's rights and the rights of the underprivileged, died Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz. She was 82 and had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for years.

Born in Baltimore, the daughter of a renowned pathologist and a concert pianist, Rich won a National Book Award in 1974 for her collection, Diving into the Wreck, and 30 years later won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for The School Among the Ruins

Rich3Rich also won a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and other top literary awards while teaching at such institutions as Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell, San Jose State, and Stanford. In 1997, she refused to accept a prestigious National Medal for the Arts, telling then-President Clinton by letter that the widening and "radical disparities of wealth and power in America" prevented her from accepting.

See all of Rich's books at Amazon.com and read more about her life in the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and at Poets.org.

 

YA Wednesday: Calling for Questions for Cassie Clare!

Got something you want to ask Cassie Clare, Omni readers? Well from today through the 1st of April, tell us what to ask Cassie when our exclusive-for-Amazon video is filmed in a few weeks. Lost_souls

Wondering where she got the idea for her Infernal Devices series, or dying to know more about Jace? Or Clary? Yeah, we all are. Ask away! Who knows? Maybe you can even get her to leak something about City of Lost Souls, the latest in The Mortal Instruments series, which will be out on May 8th.

Don't be shy... It isn't every day you get to ask one of your favorite authors a question, right? So add yours to the comment section below.

Arcadia: An Interview with Lauren Groff

Lauren groff

I first met Lauren Groff when we both attended the South Carolina Book Festival several years ago. Her first novel The Monsters of Templeton had just been published to critical and popular acclaim. One night at the festival, my wife and I had a lovely dinner with Groff and a wonderful mix of poets, crime novelists, SF writers, and memoirists. The interesting, varied conversation bounced from topic to topic, giving each of us reports from other lands, in a sense. What I liked about Groff is that she not only enjoyed this diversity but seemed to revel in it, a characteristic that comes through clearly in her fiction as well. Her work exists in a unique space that sometimes partakes of the fantastical, sometimes not, as well as a hard-to-define luminous quality and an incisive curiosity about the world.

After Monsters and the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds, Groff is now back with Arcadia, a novel that alters course for the author once more while exhibiting the same sureness of voice and complexity of character found in her prior fiction. Arcadia tells the story of an agrarian, utopian community established in the 1960s through the eyes of Bit, the first boy born in Arcadia. The opening passage has a lovely rhythm to it:

 

    The women in the river, singing. This is Bit’s first memory, although he hadn’t been born when it happened. Still, the road winding through the mountains was clear to him, the rest stop with the yellow flowers that closed under the children’s touch. It was dusk when the Caravan saw the river greening around the bend and stopped there for the night. It was a blue spring evening, and cold.

 

Arcadia--groff

The tale spinning out from there follows three generations in the commune, always with Bit at the center. Groff effortlessly conveys both external and internal pressures on the commune during its rise and its inevitable fall. Central to Arcadia, too, is Bit’s lifelong troubled love affair with a young woman named Helle.

The novel has received excellent reviews from Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and the New York Times Book Review, among others—and with good reason. Arcadia succeeds in being both personal and having a wider scope. The “raw beauty” of the prose, as the NYT put it, has an almost hypnotic effect, in part because there’s no hint of cliché at the paragraph level. The details alone will captivate readers, not to mention the larger story. The novel has what you might call a kind of dreamlike clarity.

Recently, I interviewed Groff via email to get a sense of her career to-date and to ask her about the process of writing Arcadia. To start, I was especially interested to know about the difference between writing her first novel and her second.

Continue reading "Arcadia: An Interview with Lauren Groff" »

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