Blogs at Amazon

Horses of the Apocalypse: Scott Cheshire's American Epic

Scott_cheshire

A blurb from Philipp Meyer hails Scott Cheshire's debut novel, High as the Horses' Bridles, as "a great new American epic." At first glance, the page count of Bridles seems too slim to be an epic. But within its swift 300 pages, Cheshire's thematic scope is cast wide, capturing a number of deeply intertwined American ideas.

In many ways, the book is a lens into the expanse of American faith and how unshakable it is, even when that relationship is conflicted. From its opening pages, Bridles is heavily doused in apocalyptic language. Twelve-year-old Josiah Laudermilk delivers a doomsday prophecy to a crowd of four thousand parishioners, all of whom belong to a sect that closely resembles the Jehova's Witnesses. The scene is electric, rapturous.

At Housing Works Bookstore Café in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, where Cheshire wrote most of the novel, he explained his interest exploring America's roots—founded on both religious and apocalyptic ideas.

"If you look at [the country's] very basic mission, which is 'to become a more perfect union', even that phrasing is about benevolence, which is ideally what religion is about: to become better and better and better," Cheshire said. "And there's something even kind of apocalyptic about it. You're striving to get better and better to get to a place of perfection."

High as the Horses' Bridles does a magnificent job unpacking great swaths of the American psyche through a much smaller, more specific family drama. There are strong traces of Cheshire's personal history throughout the book. After the first act, the novel jumps ahead twenty years. Josiah—now Josie—has returned to Queens to take care of his dying father after a decade away from the church.

Continue reading "Horses of the Apocalypse: Scott Cheshire's American Epic" »

Bill Gates Sells a Business Book

BusinessadventureWhat's the best business book Bill Gates has read? In a recent article, he named Business Adventures by John Brooks, sending it to the top of the Amazon Best Sellers list. (It currently sits at #4.)

The billionaire/philanthropist heard about it from another great reader. "Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn’t miss a beat: 'It’s Business Adventures, by John Brooks,' he said. 'I’ll send you my copy.' I was intrigued: I had never heard of Business Adventures or John Brooks."

If you're interested in a 1960s collection of New Yorker articles, one that's beloved by two of the richest men in America, you should check it out. I know I'm going to. The only problem is you'll have to wait until September 9th to get the paperback edition--because it was out of print until Gates gave it his Seal of Approval.

 

Peter Sis Shares Early Sketches and Talks About "The Pilot and the Little Prince"

PilotLittlePrinceAn acclaimed children's book author and illustrator, Peter Sis' book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtainabout his childhood in Cold War-era Prague, won a Caldecott Honor in 2008.  Most recently Sis turned his attention to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Pilot and the Little Prince.  This picture book for older children (ages 6-up) tells the remarkable story of the author of the children's classic, The Little Prince, and Sis' passion for his subject leaps off the page. This is one of our favorite books for this age--actually, it's a fascinating read for anyone who's read The Little Prince--and we made it one of our Best Books of 2014 So Far.

During Book Expo America in New York last month, Sis was kind enough to do a video interview and share some of his early sketches from his studio in Manhattan.  He's a fascinating storyteller, and watching him quickly flipping through the sketches while speaking so candidly about them is something I found immensely enjoyable. 

 

 

Amazon Asks: “War of the Whales” Author, Joshua Horwitz

Joshua Horwitz spent six years researching the story of the marine biologist and the environmental lawyer whose battle against the US Navy and its secret underwater sonar programs went all the way to the Supreme Court. The result, War of the Whales, is one of those rare nonfiction books that reads like fiction – in this case, a delightful mashup of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Stephen Ambrose and David Halberstam.

War of the Whales was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Month “Spotlight” pick for July. In my review I described it as “a gripping and wholly original tale of the ecological side effects of national security” and “a rare trifecta of a book: important, highly readable, and stunningly true.”

I reached out to Horwitz to ask about his favorite books (duh, Moby Dick), and, as a bonus he shared a couple of cool whale photos.

Describe your book in one sentence?

Whales and submarines collide inside world's deepest underwater canyon. 

Or: Two men take on world's largest navy to save whales.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Favorite books about whales?

Moby Dick -- what else?

Favorite book as a child?

Tarzan, King of the Apes series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What are you obsessed with now?

How few books teenagers--including my daughters--seem to be reading for pleasure.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My appetite(s).

What do you collect?

Daughters, apparently. (I've got three.)

Favorite line?

Where lies the final harbor whence we unmoor no more? (from Moby Dick)

What's next for you?

More reading, less writing.

What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  From whom?

From Martin Scorcese, as returning NYU fillm alum speaking to us wannabees, on editing. (He was speaking about film editing, but applies equally to text.) -- "Begin with a scalpel, end with an axe."

Graphic Novel Friday: Happy Birthday, Batman!

Batman_75Happy Bat-Birthday! The Caped Crusader turns 75 this year, and to commemorate, DC Comics will release two 400-page hardcover collections chronicling the adventures and darkness surrounding the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years release next week, featuring 75 years of stories by Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III, Scott Snyder, Paul Dini, and many more.

Until those tomes hit the shelves, we put our cowls together and identified our five favorite Batman stories-–not a “Best of,” please note! Want to tell us your favorites, Omni readers? To the Bat-comments!

5. Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham: Batman falls for Talia al Ghul, the beautiful and dangerous daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, one of Batman’s greatest villains. Their romance leads to a strange alliance between an often shirtless Batman and Ra’s—and its decades-old consequences lead directly into Grant Morrison’s Batman & Son storyline, proving that great stories are never forgotten. [Note that this particular story is contained in a new collection with two other related stories.]

4. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola: Mike Mignola! Victorian-era Batman! Mike Mignola! Jack the Ripper! Need we exclaim further? This self-contained story is revered among fans for its artwork and clever, creepy storyline.

3. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale:  Batman must face his entire rogues gallery in a murder mystery that spans 12 months. Loeb and Sale’s portrayal of Batman is both classic and contemporary: smart, determined, and muscle-bound. "I made a promise to my parents..."

2. Batman: Nine Lives by Dean Motter and Michael Lark: Say what? This Elseworlds tale (like Gaslight) may be new to readers, but it’s an atypical look at Gotham, where familiar heroes and villains are turned on their heads andBatman_bm reinterpreted in inventive ways. It also involves a murder mystery, and it's a doozy.  [Note: this collection is out of print and available via our third party marketplace.]

1. Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla: Perhaps the greatest Batman arc in the past decade, The Black Mirror houses two very different stories—both of which trouble Dick Grayson. Yes, our #1 pick is a Batman story without Bruce Wayne! Grayson assumes the mantle and takes the Batman character in a different direction, one worth reading multiple times for how often Snyder gets it “right.” This collection is sure to influence Batman writers for decades to come.

Disclaimer: We excluded any Frank Miller stories from this list, given their importance and length of the shadow they cast over any Bat-list.

--Alex

George Hincapie: Lance's Loyal Lieutenant

George Hincape learned early on that he was made to race bikes. The Queens-born son of a cycling fanatic, he rode early, fast, and occasionally recklessly. As a teenager, he discovered a passion for racing, often testing his talent against older riders, winning frequently and rising through the ranks of competitive cycling. Eventually he crossed paths another racer of enormous ability, the young Lance Armstrong. And as a young man,  Hincapie turned pro and headed for Europe, where he built a reputation as a rider of prodigious natural talent, tactical acumen, and relentless dedication to the success of the team. While he continued to pursue individual success, he found fame when he joined Armstrong for what was (officially then, maybe unofficially now) the most successful run in the history of the sport: Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France victories. While Armstrong was the brash and arrogant team leader, "Big George" rode faithfully at his side, shepherding him through danger and doing the hard, selfless work necessary to win the most prestigious bike race in the world.

 

The Loyal Lieutenant

 

Unfortunately, the story didn't end there. 

The dirty details of doping have been discussed at length elsewhere: see Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race for a gritty/gripping insider's account of performance enhancing drugs, while Wheelmen and Cycle of Lies provide detailed histories of Armstrong's rise and long fall into disgrace. Now Hincapie has written his own account of his career, The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris (with Craig Hummer). Like Hamilton and almost every successful bike racer of that era, Hincapie was caught up in the wave of PEDs and all its paranoia. But unlike his former teammate, he doesn't necessarily offer a mea culpa for his participation. He is neither proud nor dismissive, but instead focuses on the culture of cheating and his eventual choice to race without drugs.

We talked to Hincapie at Book Expo America about his experience as a cyclist and a teammate, and his efforts to clean up the sport he so clearly loves.

 

YA Wednesday: July Favorites

It's the middle of summer and Seattle is scorching hot these days.  The best I can do under the circumstances has been to hide out with a fan and distract myself with books.

For the Best YA Books of July list, you'll see something a little bit different--a nonfiction YA title.  Now, this is not to imply that there hasn't been great nonfiction YA titles in months past, but this one, The Family Romanov, was so good it took the spotlight.   I hope you find a book on this month's list to help you beat the heat...

 

FamilyRomanov300The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
There have been no shortage of books written about the Romanovs, particularly the mystery surrounding Anastasia.  The Family Romanov covers some familiar ground but Fleming maintains the perfect balance of detail without overkill, and achieves that "you-are-there" feeling.  Alternating narratives tell the story of the last Tsar's family in the context of the time, not only what was happening in their lives individually and collectively, but also the lives of average Russians. This is some of the most engaging nonfiction I've read in a while and for anyone with an interest in this period of history, The Family Romanov will not disappoint.

 

QueenTearling300The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
This novel is not listed as young adult, but it speaks so well to that reader that we didn't see an age designation as a reason to keep it off the YA list for July.  In book one of a promising new fantasy series, a young woman born to be queen and raised in exile embarks on a quest to save her kingdom from an evil sorceress called the Red Queen.  I really loved some of the fairy tale elements--magical jewels and  loyal knights, a dark queen vs. a simple girl with hidden strengths and royal blood--along with the Game of Thrones style political intrigue.  Definitely a story to immerse yourself in this summer.

 

 

 

ShadowHero300

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew
I'm not a huge graphic novel reader but this one by the author of the Michael L. Printz award winner, American Born Chinese, and last year's National Book Award finalist, Boxers & Saints, totally grabbed my attention.  In The Shadow Hero, Yang resurrects a Chinese comic superhero from the 1940s, the Green Turtle, and creates his own origin story for the masked crusader.  In Yang's vision, it is a mother's will that pushes young Hank to accept his destiny and become the Green Turtle, in order to fight the crime plaguing the people of Chinatown. This graphic novel has a great classic comic book feel to it while at the same time playing on more sophisticated cultural references and shifts.  If you only read one graphic novel this summer, make it this one.

Sinner300 

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie, oh, Maggie. How thrilled I was to see a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy coming out this month!  Thrilled but then a little nervous too...what if I didn't like it as much?  Senseless, I know, but many years in this business has left me cautious at times.  Plus, it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised (of course it's fabulous!), right?  In Sinner, Cole St. Clair is back in Los Angeles with a spot on a dodgy internet reality show and determined to rekindle his passionate but toxic love affair with Isabel Culpepper.  Their story makes for compulsive reading and fans of the trilogy will love the return of some Wolves of Mercy Falls characters, but this one can also be read as a standalone.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

MockingbirdFor fifty years, journalists have trekked to Monroeville, Alabama in search of Harper Lee. Normally, they leave town without even setting eyes on the famous but reclusive author. But in 2001, Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills wrote to Harper Lee's older sister, Alice, whom she eventually met. It was the beginning of a long conversation—which Ms. Mills recounts here in this exclusive essay:

-----------------------------------------------------------------

When the Chicago Tribune sent me south on an assignment in 2001 to write about Harper Lee’s hometown, I never imagined the adventure that awaited me. I certainly never imagined that I would meet the author herself. Lee had remained famously, ferociously, private since a few years after her first and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960.

We like to think we know which questions have the power to change our lives. What do you want to be when you grow up? Will you marry? Stay in your hometown? You can weigh those decisions, give them the thought they are due. Then everyday questions come along, and they turn out to carry that power, too. That’s the suspense of life, the serendipity. On that August day, my quick answer to my editor’s simple question, “Want to take a trip?” changed the course of my life and work for more than a decade.

After a nearly a week of talking to people around Monroeville, I knocked on the door of the house where the Lee sisters, Alice and Nelle Harper, lived, never expecting it to open. I had written Alice Lee, the then-89-year-old attorney who served as gatekeeper to her sister, known locally as Nelle, to tell her I would be in town and why.  

Alice opened not only the front door but the door to their lives as well. Soon, to my even greater surprise, I met Nelle. She arranged to come for a conversation at the Best Western where I was staying. From that meeting, a friendship with both sisters began, as did a years-long conversation about their lives and work.

At first slowly, then with increased gusto, Nelle shaped my own work, and how I viewed their town and the South. To the sisters, it was critical that I first understand their region, that I see them in context. Early on Nelle told me “To understand Southerners, you need to understand their ties to their church and their property.” And so I was off on a different kind of assignment, the Lee sisters’ guide to the South. I attended churches of all kinds in their corner of the Bible Belt, interviewed their friends and family, and took long drives with them through the small towns and rural areas they knew growing up. 

Marja-Mills-Chris-Popio-(2)My newspaper story ran in 2002 and I was on to other topics, while staying in touch with the sisters. My struggles with lupus made daily reporting increasingly difficult, however, and eventually it became clear I would have to find another way to work. In the fall of 2004, with the sisters’ blessing, I began renting the house next door to theirs to work on what became my memoir, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee.

The Lees were ready to share more of their stories. Share them they did, on long country drives, on leisurely afternoons at their home and, with Nelle, often over afternoon coffee at McDonald’s or Burger King. “I know what you can call your book,” Nelle told me over one such coffee at Burger King. She leaned in and stabbed her finger in the air. “’Having Their Say.’ I know they used it with the Delaney Sisters but titles aren’t copyrightable.’” Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years was a bestselling book about two African American sisters reflecting on their lives.

The Lees fascinated me as sisters. Alice was the oldest of four siblings. Nelle was the youngest. Alice was 15 years older than Nelle, as much mother to her as sister.  Neither married or had children but in other ways they took very different paths.  Alice lived most of her life in their small hometown.  Nelle moved to New York as a young woman and stayed, eventually dividing her time between Manhattan and Monroeville. Alice was petite. Nelle wasn't. Alice wore only skirts, even on the week-ends. (Nelle referred to her as “Atticus in a Skirt.”) Nelle made casual pants and shirts her daily uniform. Alice worked at her law office until she was 100 years old. After the success of her novel, Nelle never held a traditional job. The never-ending press of interest in Nelle and the novel, however, was work in itself.  

The Lees didn't make big concessions to modern technology and conveniences, either. If a routine worked, they stuck with it. Nelle and I did laundry together at a Laundromat the next town over. The sisters faxed because Alice's hearing made using the phone impossible. But computers were not in the picture. Nelle used a manual typewriter to answer some of the correspondence that still poured into their post office box.

For all the sisters told me about their lives, I learned as much simply from seeing how they lived them: with a passion for books and history, church and community, friendship and family, and very little interest in material things. Television they had little time for, except when it came to football and golf. Their modest red brick house in Monroeville overflowed with books, but when it came to things such as wardrobes and furniture, they found simple things that worked for them and stuck with the same for decades.   

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as the saying goes, and it was illuminating to see how they went about their day to day life in Monroeville. Both Nelle and Alice spent their time on books and friends, and, when it came to money, you would never know Nelle’s novel had brought her wealth. They did donate, quietly and generously, to church and education funds and various charities.

I am so much richer for my time with them. Spending time with these fascinating, intelligent, witty women was a lesson in living life on your own terms. They valued words far more than wealth--and their daily lives reflected that.

I’m reminded of a story Alice told me. When Nelle was studying in England in the 1940s, one of the Oxford boys she knew was going to London because he had a letter of introduction to a member of Parliament. “Something had happened that his girl couldn’t go,” Alice said, “and he asked Nelle Harper if she’d like to go. And she went. I think maybe they bicycled all the way in but, you know, it’s not far. And they were having tea on the terrace and this man who was hosting them excused himself from the table for a short time and returned with somebody.” Alice paused and looked at me with the relish of a cook about to serve a delicious dish. “And that somebody was Winston Churchill.” She continued, “Nelle Harper was so shocked and so overcome she couldn’t remember what she said. . . . Nelle Harper’s letter back home [to us] said, ‘Today I met history. I met history itself.’  

When I think of my time with the Lees in Monroeville, I feel the same way.

-- Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

(Photo credit: Chris Popio)

What to Eat This Week: Haute Dogs

HauteDogs500HStill recovering from the excitement of the World Cup finale?  Hotter that hot outside (and inside for those of us without air conditioning...) and don't feel like spending a ton of time on dinner?  My solution: hot dogs.  But not just any dogs--these shall be Haute Dogs, straight from the pages of this very fun and beautifully photographed cookbook.  Here are two of the recipes, both of which seem appropriate as hot dog homage to the streets of Brazil where soccer fans recently wept and to our own book editors World Cup obsession here in Seattle. 

São Paolo Potato Dog - (from page 89 in Haute Dogs)
Place of Origin: São Paolo, Brazil
Other Names: Cachorro Quente Completo

 SaoPauloDog

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re looking for the craziest hot dog in the world, you’ll likely find it in Brazil. Brazilians take their toppings seriously, and though favorite add-ons  vary from city to city and region to region, you’ll almost always find potato on the hot dogs here. The cachorro quente (pronounced ka-SHO-ho KEN-tche, which translates simply as “hot dog”) is one you’ll find at street carts across São Paolo. Try it completo, with everything, but be warned: it won’t be easy to get your hands (or mouth) around!

 

 

 

Ingredients:
Mashed potatoes
Vinaigrette (store-bought or from scratch, page 160)
Canned or frozen yellow corn
Canned or frozen peas
Classic bun
Beef and pork hot dog
Ketchup
Yellow mustard
Mayonnaise
Chopped tomatoes
Potato chips
Grated cheddar cheese

Kitchen Note: See page 127 for recipes for classic buns, beef and pork hot dogs, condiments, and vinaigrette.

Prep: Make mashed potatoes and set aside, keeping warm if necessary. Whisk together the vinaigrette, if using homemade.Heat the corn and peas until hot according to the instructions on the package.

Assembly: Get out a classic bun. Grill a beef and pork hot dog as instructed on page 16. Coat the inside of the bun with mashed potatoes and place the hot dog on top. Top the dog with a line each of ketchup, yellow mustard, and mayonnaise. Add a handful each of corn, peas, tomatoes, potato chips, and cheddar cheese and finish with a spoonful or two of vinaigrette.

Rio de Janeiro Dog: Eighty-six the mashed potatoes and add a hardboiled quail egg.

Paraíba Dog: Eighty-six the mashed potatoes, potato chips, and peas. Top with potato sticks or crispy shoestring fries.

Minas Gerais Dog: Eighty-six the mashed potatoes and peas. Top with a mixture of cooked ground beef, carrots, red peppers, green peppers, and onions. (Minas Gerais is a Brazilian state known for its distinctive take on the Cachorro Quente.)

****************************************************************************************************************************

Seattle-Style Hot Dog  (from page 83 in Haute Dogs--and these can indeed be found at a popular food cart in downtown Seattle, just look for the long line of people...)
Place of Origin: Seattle,WA
Other Names: Cream Cheese Dog

SeattleStyleHauteDog

 

This strange Seattle creation likely came to be in the 1980s or ’90s when modern variations and the idea of haute dogs began influencing recipes. Not only are these dogs almost impossible to find outside Seattle, they can be tricky to find within Seattle as well. That hasn’t stopped this deliciously spicy and creamy dog from collecting a cult following. Loaded with veggies, jalapeños, sriracha, and cream cheese, these dogs are all about thinking outside the bun.

 Ingredients:
Oil, for sautéing
Finely chopped white onions
Sliced jalapeños
Chopped cabbage
Classic bun
Polish sausage or hot dog
Cream cheese, room temperature
sriracha

 

Prep: Warm a splash of oil in a skillet over medium heat. add onions, jalapeños, and cabbage and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and brown, about 10 minutes.

Assembly: Get out a classic bun. Slice a Polish sausage or hot dog in half and grill it (as in the Flattop Method for split Dogs on page 17). Spread enough cream cheese on the inside of the bun to coat and place the sausage on top. Top with a handful of onions, jalapeños, and cabbage. Add a few drops of sriracha on top.

Let cream cheese come to room temperature before spreading so that it glides smoothly onto the bun.

Kitchen Notes: Anything goes! Use Polish sausage (kielbasa) or a hot dog of your choice. Originally from Vietnam, sriracha is a bright red hot sauce that’s skyrocketed to fame in recent years. It’s available at most grocery stores and other sources (page 162).         

 

 

Of Maps and Memories: Francisco Goldman Interviewed by Daniel Alarcón

Interior_circuit

Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles, sits down to talk with journalist and novelist Francisco Goldman, about driving — and grieving. --Sara Nelson


Daniel Alarcón: So first of all, The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle is a beautiful book: part memoir, part map of an infinite city, part meditation on mourning, part reportage. One of the things I love about it is that it seems effortless, straddling all these genres with great elegance. So I want to begin by asking how you conceived of this book when you started writing it. Was there a plan? Did you worry about genre?

Francisco Goldman: I didn’t know it was going to be a book when I started. Its origins go a year or so back, when I began to talk to an editor at The New Yorker about doing a piece on my “driving project” — how I was going to overcome my phobia over driving in Mexico City by using the Guía Roji, that fat and fabulous book of Mexico City street maps, that book of “infinite roads” so indispensable to every Mexico City taxi driver, like an I Ching: close my eyes, open to a random page, jab my finger down, and then try to drive to wherever the finger had landed. That was the idea and I’d agreed with that editor to give it a go, even though I didn’t have a formal assignment. I also owed Grove, my publisher, a third magazine piece which they wanted to bring out in a book alongside two other pieces I’d published earlier that year, one in The New Yorker on children of the Dirty War-disappeared in Argentina, and another in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Camila Vallejo and the student movement in Chile.

My plan was to carry out the driving project in the summer of 2012, in the DF (The Distrito Federal a.k.a. Mexico City). But it turned out to be a summer in which a lot happened in my life, a dramatic, wild, transformative summer during which, as my Chilango or Mexico City friends liked to put it, I hit “rock bottom,” and then “resurrected.” That spring/summer began with the approach of the fifth anniversary of the death of my wife Aura [Estrada, a grad student and writer], and with the sadness and walled-off emotional loneliness of grief, a feeling that seemed like it was never going to end. The summer ended with me most unexpectedly falling in love again. In between were months of out of control, self-destructive behavior, culminating in a night (the “hit bottom” night) of absurd violence. These were transformative months for Mexico too, with a national election that returned the PRI to federal power, and a massive student movement that seemingly arose out of nowhere, a youthful desperate surge of hope and resistance aimed at preventing the election of the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as president.

Continue reading "Of Maps and Memories: Francisco Goldman Interviewed by Daniel Alarcón" »

Gumshoe 101: Your Guide to Becoming a Self-Made Detective

Deborah Halber's new book The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, digs into the underground network of self-made detectives working to solve mysteries of unidentified human remains, using modern tools to put names and faces to thousands of John and Jane Does--often in unofficial competition with the police, as well as each other. Here Halber offers her guide to becoming a successful shamus for the Information Age.

Skeleton Crew

 

Essential Tools and Tips for Becoming a Successful Private Investigator

by Deborah Halber

Just to be clear, I would make a lousy PI. A reviewer noted that in my newly released narrative nonfiction book, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, my writer’s voice is "inflected with the gritty timbre of a noir detective; it’s hard not to imagine her spitting the words out of the side of her mouth." I’d say in real life I’m more bumbling TV gumshoe than ace detective Philip Marlowe. More Columbo or Cloiseau than Veronica Mars.

Maybe that’s why I’m in such awe of the web sleuths. The real-life Sherlock Holmes wannabes you’ll meet in my book have the patience of a ox, the attention to detail of a neurosurgeon and the visual acuity of a shark, which, I’m told, can detect glimmers ten times weaker than anything humans can see. One self-proclaimed amateur sleuth has such a spot-on visual memory that she’s able to peruse dozens of photos of missing people and compare them in her mind’s eye to facial reconstructions of unidentified human remains. Another tirelessly combs through records of persons reported missing in the general vicinity of a discovered body, working her way outward in concentric circles through counties, cities, states.

Also key is the ability to look at grisly photos without running screaming from your computer or face-planting in a dead faint onto your keyboard. There are repositories of images--artists’ reconstructions, vivid color portraits, crude pencil sketches, cartoon-like illustrations, and distorted clay dummies sporting wigs, like something out of a beautician’s academy for the hopeless--a Facebook for the dead. There are also actual morgue photos barely Photoshopped into presentability. It takes a strong stomach--or a fascination with the macabre--to click past “may be disturbing for some viewers.”

Once you’ve narrowed your search--noting, say, this missing person from Wisconsin looks a lot like that facial reconstruction of remains discovered in Florida--you get to delve into the details. Height? Weight? Scars or tattoos? There’s a mind-numbing mountain of data to sift through--and any given data point is not necessarily accurate. A website devoted to Princess Doe--an unidentified young homicide victim found in Blairstown, New Jersey, in 1982, her face bludgeoned beyond recognition--lists almost 100 potential matches, all young women loosely fitting her description, all reported missing after 1975. The amount of work involved in sorting through these leads would be daunting for even the most seasoned detective.

 

Phoenix unidentifieds


Yet the problem is formidable and well worth the benefits of crowdsourcing: The National Institute of Justice estimates that some 40,000 unidentified remains--the population of Wilkes-Barre or North Miami Beach--are stowed in the back rooms of morgues, crematoriums or buried as Jane and John Does in potters fields. No one in the medicolegal community seems to “own” the Does, but web sleuths using sites such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) and the Doe Network have “adopted” well-known ones such as Princess Doe; the Lady of the Dunes in my home state of Massachusetts; and the Boy in the Box, found murdered in Philadelphia in 1957.

Many of the web sleuths are motivated by a genuine desire to help families of the missing. Dig into the attributes of the most successful and efficient web sleuths and you’ll find people whose motives are pure, whose diligence is noteworthy, and whose eyes are much sharper than mine.

Recipe Road Test: Jalapeno Poppers from "Man Made Meals"

Last week my fellow editor, Neal, wrote about Steven Raichlen's recent visit to talk barbecuing and his new cookbook, Man Made Meals.  I also got to meet Raichlen when he was here and after flipping through the book while we talked, decided I would try making the Cheese-Stuffed, Bacon-Roasted Jalapeno Poppers for my Fourth of July party.  Sound mouth-watering? It should, because they totally are.  Below is my road test of this recipe--what worked, what didn't, and one happy accident to repeat.

Jalapenos400

 

First off, the recipe says large jalapenos, and I took that to heart--the ones I used were around 4 inches long and pretty stout.  This worked well for stuffing them with cheese, though I  quickly realized that cutting the pepper in half versus cutting the cap off (both methods are mentioned), was the way to go because, frankly, I couldn't get the cap back on again.

 

 JalapenosStuffed

 

 

The recipe suggests you use whatever cheese you like--I decided to try three: colby, pepper jack, and cream cheese. I wasn't sure how full to pack in the cheese (I did the math but what does 2oz in matchstick pieces of cheese look like?), so I went with my usual motto regarding cheese, "more is better."  I also skipped the cilantro.  It's a polarizing herb and the people that hate it, really hate it and can taste the tiniest bit.  I'll try adding the cilantro to the cheese next time when I'm making a smaller batch.

 

  JalapenosGrillReady

 

 

Raichlen's recipe calls for artisanal bacon, which, for the sake of not going to another store, I chose to interpret as "thick-sliced." But somehow I ended up with regular ol' thin bacon, so instead of a half slice per pepper, I wrapped a whole slice around each one (like cheese, more bacon is better in my world...) and they looked pretty good.

 

You can cook the poppers in the oven or on the grill, and I went for the latter.  The grill, in my case, having been lid-down and shoved in a corner since last summer.  Much to my chagrin, I had completely forgotten how warped (and, let's face it, kind of nasty) the grates are and how much it resembles a grill you might find on a sidewalk with a free sign taped to it.

GhettoGasGrill

 

 

But no matter!  It was July 4th, the cocktails were flowing and a jacked-up grill is just one of those things you take in stride.

 The peppers charred (though admittedly unevenly), the cheese melted and oozed out the sides a bit (I no doubt overfilled them), and some of the bacon fell off, but those Cheese-Stuffed, Bacon-Roasted Jalapeno Poppers were delicious!

There was no consensus regarding the best cheese, though I think my personal favorite may have been the colby.  And probably as a result of an uneven grill, the peppers didn't soften as much as they appeared to in the cookbook photo, but having a little crunch left in them turned out to be really nice and I'll definitely try to duplicate that next time.  FinishedPoppers

A Debut to Remember: Celeste Ng's "Everything I Never Told You"

CelesteNgOne of my favorite books of the year is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading it, but I'd heard good things about the novel, and it quickly drew me in. In the end, I tore right through it. As I say in this interview, there isn't a false note in the book.

I only hope that my praise for Celeste Ng's debut doesn't raise the bar so high that it can't meet readers' expectations.

Here's my interview with Celeste Ng:

 

A Conversation with James Browning, Author of "The Fracking King"

James Browning's The Fracking King is an engaging story about a high school junior named Winston Crwth. "Win," as he's called, is at Pennsylvania's Hale Academy (his third school in as many years), and he's there on a "Dark Scholarship" (paid for by the fracking concern, Dark Oil & Gas). He's also a big Scrabble fan.

Browning populates his novel with quirky, memorable characters, and he does a fine job of combining Scrabble, boarding school, and fracking to create a story that's both entertaining and provocative. The Amazon Editors liked it so much, we picked it as a July Best Book of the Month

FrackingKingI had the pleasure of talking to author James Browning, who aside from being an author, is a spokesman and chief strategist for Common Cause, a government watchdog group:

Chris Schluep: First of all, are you a scrabble fanatic?

James Browning: Scrabble was the only game at which I could beat my step-father, a man who believed that children should be “seen and not heard.” I also played constantly with my mother, and my brother and I played about 300 games one summer when we were supposed to be painting our father’s house in Palo Alto, California.

CS: Can you tell me where the idea for the novel came from?

JB: The novel was mainly inspired by a meeting I had in Harrisburg in 2008, with a legislative aide who looked like Bartleby the Scrivener. He warned me not to use the “c-word” in Harrisburg—by which he meant “corruption”—which was a pretty amazing thing to say because the whole point of my job with Common Cause was fighting government corruption.

This meeting and the feeling I got while working in the state capitol—that I was stuck in some lost novel by George Orwell—gave me a real sense of urgency and feeling of responsibility as I began to look at the issue of fracking in Pennsylvania. Winston Crwth’s own journey to boarding school and then to Harrisburg is also the story of the power of a single word, “fracking,” in the hands of the right person. 

CS:  How long did it take you to write the book?

JB:About two years, but I’ve been writing fiction and hoping to publish a novel for a long time. I wrote a different Scrabble novel back in 1998 when I was in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins—a story of Scrabble and doomed love.

CS: Why did you choose to set it in a boarding school?

JB: Boarding school is the thing that woke me up politically—as much because I believed in non sibi, “not for self,” the motto of Phillips Academy Andover, but also because of a lingering sense of shame that I did nothing when several of the not-rich kids in my dorm were expelled for breaking school rules for the second or third time, when the rich kids seemed to get four, five, or more chances.

CS: Are you afraid that it will be seen as "just a Fracking novel"? Because it isn't.

JB: The Fracking King can be read as a fracking novel, or a Scrabble novel, or a novel about a kid trying to survive high school. Or as I told my oldest son, a budding icthyologist, the book is like a cuttlefish, which can change colors to look like sand, a rock, a snake.

CS: What's next for you?

JB: I’m writing a novel about reading for the blind, a sort of older sibling to The Fracking King.

I used to work as the night manager at a studio that recorded textbooks for blind and dyslexic students and it was my job to catch any mistakes before these tapes were sent to the master library. The readers were wonderful, very dedicated, and would describe things like the “honeycomb” shape of certain molecules in a way that a blind person could imagine running their hands along the inside of the molecule.

Many years later, I’m still remembering mistakes that got by me, that got by all of us, and which were then copied and sent to who knows how many listeners. The new novel imagines what would happen if some of those mistakes were sent into the world and accepted as reality—and how you would try to fix them.

 

Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks

This weekend variant edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives with an exclusive interview.  Hope everyone had a great July 4th holiday!

Author Max Brooks continues to re-think and refine the zombie phenomenon.  From World War Zthe blockbuster novel that led to the blockbuster film, and the follow-up/send-up The Zombie Survival Guide his name is cemented in the zombie canon. This month, he launches a new graphic novel with Avatar Press that takes another wild look at zombies (and vampires!) in The Extinction Parade. Mr. Brooks nicely took time to answer a few questions over email:

Q: You have two new collections out this spring, The Harlem Hellfighters and The Extinction Parade. What’s your comics origin story—what first inspired you in the medium?

Max Brooks: I can’t remember how old I was, but it was a time before the Berlin Wall fell. We used to spend our summers on a little strip of sand off New York called "Fire Island." I fished and swam and rode my bike everywhere, but one thing I didn’t do was read. Being dyslexic, reading was a real chore. And then I found ROM: Spaceknight at the general store and I recognized it from an action figure I had. It was the first king sized annual. I hadn’t intended to read the whole thing, but before I knew it, I was on the last page. That was the first time in my life I’d ever voluntarily read something, ANYTHING cover to cover, and I still own that exact issue.

Q: The Extinction Parade began as a short prose story. What led to its translation into comics? What aspects did you have to re-think when converting it for Avatar Press?

Max Brooks: Converting from prose to comics is no easy task. For one thing, you can’t ignore any information. In prose, I don’t have to describe anything that’s not integral to the story. Out of sight, out of mind. A comic book is visual. The reader sees everything. I have to pay attention to clothes, hair, architecture, every detail I want to be accurate. Because The Extinction Parade takes place in Malaysia, where I’ve never been, I have to use 3D satellite images to show the artist where our characters are and what we, the readers, would see in the background.

Q: The Extinction Parade is filled with storytelling, from character-to-character moments to detailed narration boxes. What is your method of scripting comics? Are you more hands-on or hands-off in terms of page layouts and character designs?

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks" »

BBQ King Steven Raichlen on "Ensemble" Cooking

MealsFireworks won’t be the only things flaring in America’s backyards on this Fourth of July.

You’d think after centuries of cooking with fire, man would have it down. But so many backyard chefs still scorch that precious steak or salmon. We overcook, we undercook, we set good food on fire.

For many years and across many books--notably his bestselling Barbecue Bible--BBQ guru Steven Raichlen has been trying to school us. During a recent swing through Seattle, over lunch at Tom Douglas’s Bravehorse Tavern, I asked for a little help: What do men do wrong at the grill?

“They don’t control the fire, they let the fire control them,” Raichlen said, while dunking a fresh-made pretzel into a bacon peanut butter dip.

Too many guys throw a hunk of meat on the grill or cram it full of chicken pieces and hope for the best, instead of practicing Raichlen’s “30-percent rule”--keeping 30 percent of grill food-free, to provide room to maneuver in case of a flare-ups.

20140623_150724

With a World Cup match roaring in in the background, we discussed Raichlen’s new book, Man Made Meals, which moves indoors and aims to teach guys to cook more like women. Raichlen believes women think in terms of meals while guys think in terms of dishes; women cook with a spirit of nurturing while men cook with a spirit of showing off. With his new book he’s hoping to help guys think “ensemble,” from the main dish to side dishes, from deserts to “rockin’ the bar shaker.”

In addition to the crash course in culinary literacy for guys--“What dishes should every self-respecting red blooded American male know how to do?”--there’s an activist message in Man Made Meals. If we’re careful about how and where we buy food, and how we cook, “we can have a positive impact on ourselves and our health, on the health and well-being of our families, and on the well-being of the planet,” Raichlen said.

Speaking of health and well-being... here's one of Raichlen's go-to dishes:


Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs, with Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce

Shop: Baby backs are the easiest ribs to cook, thanks to their generous marbling and intrinsic tenderness. To up your game, try an heirloom breed, like Berkshire pork or Tamworth.

Gear: Your basic kitchen and grilling gear including an aluminum foil drip pan, a charcoal grill (sorry guys; you can cook the ribs on a gas grill, but you need charcoal to smoke them), a rib rack (optional), and a spray bottle.

What else: I like to smoke baby backs at a somewhat higher temperature than the low and slow guys on the barbecue circuit. Which is to say, I grill the ribs using the indirect method at 325°F rather than the 225°F of traditional barbecue. I like the way the heat melts the fat and crisps the meat fibers, giving you chewier, meatier ribs than with the lower-heat method. If you prefer your ribs to have a softer texture, cook them at 225°F for 4 to 5 hours.

Time: About 20 minutes preparation time, plus about 1-1/2 hours cooking time 

These ribs sound an apple theme--you smoke them with apple wood chips and serve them with a made-from-scratch cider rum barbecue sauce. Once you master the process, you can infinitely vary the character of the ribs by changing the seasonings. Texas style? Use a rub based on cumin and chile powder and spray the ribs with beer. Jamaican style? Use jerk seasoning and spray the ribs with pineapple juice. You get the idea. 

Makes 2 racks of ribs; serves 4 normal guys as part of a full meal or 2 big guys with corresponding appetites

  • 2 racks baby back pork ribs (4 to 5 pounds total)
  • 6 tablespoons Raichlen’s Rub #1 (recipe follows) or your favorite barbecue rub 
  • 1 cup apple cider in a spray bottle
  • Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce (page 286) or your favorite barbecue sauce
  • You’ll also need: 1 1/2 cups hardwood chips or chunks, preferably apple or hickory, soaked in water to cover for 30 minutes, then drained

1 Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a large aluminum foil drip pan in the center of the grill under the grate, and preheat the grill to medium (325°F).

2 Place a rack of ribs meat side down on a baking sheet. Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of the rack by inserting a slender implement, such as the tip of an instant-read thermometer, under it; the best place to start is on one of the middle bones. Using a dishcloth, paper towel, or pliers to gain a secure grip, peel off the membrane. Repeat with the remaining rack (or ask your butcher to do it).

3 Season the ribs with barbecue rub (about 1-1/2 tablespoons per side), rubbing the spices onto the meat with your fingertips. 

4 When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the ribs, bone side down, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat. (If your grill has limited space, stand the racks of ribs upright in a rib rack.) Toss the wood chips on the coals. Cover the grill and cook the ribs for about 45 minutes.

5 Spray the ribs with some of the apple cider. This keeps them moist and adds an extra layer of flavor. Cover the grill again and continue cooking the ribs until they are darkly browned, cooked through, and tender enough to pull apart with your fingers, 45 minutes to 1 hour longer, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours in all, spraying the ribs with cider once or twice more. When the ribs are cooked, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by 1/4 to 1/2 inch. If you are using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals after 1 hour or as needed.

6 Just before serving, brush the ribs on both sides with about 1/2 cup of the Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce or the barbecue sauce of your choice. Move the ribs directly over the fire. Grill the ribs until the barbecue sauce is browned and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

7 Transfer the ribs to a large platter or cutting board. Let the ribs rest for a few minutes, then cut the racks in half or into individual ribs. Serve the ribs at once with the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.

Raichlen’s Rub #1

Here’s a barbecue rub--sweet with brown sugar, spicy with pepper and paprika--that would feel right at home in Kansas City, Memphis, or North Carolina. Makes 1/2 cup

  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard, preferably Colman’s
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Place the salt, brown sugar, paprika, pepper, dry mustard, onion powder, and celery seeds in a small bowl and mix with your fingers, breaking up any lumps in the brown sugar or onion powder. Stored in an airtight jar away from heat and light, the rub will keep for several months.

Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce

A sweet, mellow barbecue sauce invigorated with dark rum and apple cider. Good choices for rum include Myer’s Rum from Jamaica, Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda, or the new Ipswich rum from Massachusetts. The recipe makes more than you’ll need. Refrigerate any excess in a sealed jar--it will keep for several weeks. Makes about 2-1/2 cups

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • about 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 cups ketchup (I like Heinz) 
  • 1/2 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or more to taste 
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 Place the cider, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large heavy saucepan and let come to a boil over high heat. Let the cider mixture boil until reduced by about half, 4 to 6 minutes. 

2 Add the ketchup, brown sugar, rum, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, liquid smoke, onion powder, pepper, and cinnamon and whisk to mix. Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer until thick and flavorful, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more rum and/or mustard as necessary. Transfer the sauce to a bowl or clean jars and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the sauce until serving. It will keep covered in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. Reheat it over low heat before using.

WWII Hero Louis Zamperini Dead at 97

UnbrokenWhen Louis Zamperini's WWII bomber went down over the Pacific Ocean, he probably didn't think my story will become a huge best seller and be made into a movie. Survival was central to his mind as he sat in his little raft in the middle of the ocean. He had to survive intense sun, lack of food and water, leaping sharks, storms, and enemy aircraft. Eventually, he was taken in as a Japanese prisoner of war, where he was mistreated in ways that might have made his open sea experiences seem like a maudlin vacation. But through faith and resilience he survived to tell his tale.

Although his story is well-known to legions of readers, it is worth repeating (and reading and rereading).

Zamperini was born in 1917 to Italian immigrants in Olean, NY. His family moved to California in 1919, where he showed a proclivity for getting into trouble. To channel his energies, he took up boxing and eventually became a world-class runner. He ran the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he finished 8th—but he ran the last lap of the final so quickly that Adolph Hitler reportedly asked to meet him (they shook hands).

Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in 1941, where he became a bombardier. In 1943, he and his crew were sent to search for a lost aircraft over the Pacific. Their B-24 (commonly known as the “lemon plane”) encountered mechanical difficulties and went down 850 miles west of Oahu. Only three of the eleven men aboard survived. One man, Francis McNamara, died after a month at sea. Zamperini and “Phil” Phillips survived on fish, two albatrosses, and captured rainwater. When they reached the Marshall Islands after forty seven days adrift, they were taken by the Japanese.

Their troubles were far from over.

The movie of his life is scheduled for December of this year. It is based on the inspiring and hugely successful best seller Unbroken.

He also wrote two memoirs: Devil at My Heals and Don't Give Up, Don't Give In (to be published in November).

YA Wednesday: Walter Dean Myers 1937-2014

BEA2012_WalterDeanMyers_250I'm so sad to hear that Walter Dean Myers passed away. I had the pleasure to meet him at BEA in 2012 (pictured here), when he was the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and he was delightful.  Myers said that books gave him solace during troubled times as a young person, and in turn his books have touched many young lives. 

The author of over 100 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Myers won the Coretta Scott King Award multiple times, including a 2014 Coretta Scott King Honor for Darius & Twig.  He also received two Newbery Honors (for Scorpions and Somewhere in the Darkness) and his book, Monster, was the inaugural winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, a National Book Award Finalist, and a New York Times bestseller.  His futuristic young adult novel, On a Clear Day will be published this fall (September 23).  He will be sorely missed.

"I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.”--Walter Dean Myers

Photo Essay: How Did the Statue of Liberty Get Built?

LibertyElizabeth Mitchell's myth-busting Liberty’s Torch--a Best Book of the Month for July--is a hoot of a story packed with entertaining cameos by Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Edison and more. At center stage is the maddeningly egotistical artiste, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a snobbish boor who disliked America and her "subpar" people, yet, through persistence and will, found a home for his statue in New York Harbor.

In advance of Independence Day, we asked Mitchell to share a few photos and anecdotes from her rigorously researched tale of how a sculptor’s obsession became a nation's icon.

~

We take it for granted that the Statue of Liberty belongs in the New York harbor. But if it were not for one driven man, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, this globally recognizable symbol would never have seen sunrise over the city.

Bartholdi dreamed up the idea of the colossus, he pitched, pleaded, sweated, and schemed to get her built. My new book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, tells this tale of one man battling obstacles and accidents to make his unusual vision a reality.

It helped that Bartholdi birthed this creation during an era when artist, inventors and engineers constantly tried to one-up each other. He had seen the colossal statuary in Egypt, the sphinxes and pyramids, and he wanted to also create something that would last for eternity. All he had to do was solve the mechanical feats, clear the fundraising hurdles, and keep everyone alive in the process.

3P1-5
1) Here is Bartholdi, looking like Dave Grohl. He was spunky, funny, emotional, and a huge egotist. He alone came up with the idea of the Statue of Liberty and set out to convince France and America to build it. He wasn’t so much in love with America as he was entranced by the idea of crafting a massive statue. He did appreciate that America had successfully created a democracy while his France struggled violently for the ideal.

G 16-2000.0.4
2) He originally designed the piece for Egypt, for the mouth of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through so he went looking for other locations. At the time, America was showing new growth after the Civil War, taking on constructions like Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The cross continental railroad had just been completed. The nation seemed a likely candidate to absorb the plan that had failed elsewhere.

Torch displ#8
3) Short on funds and public enthusiasm, Bartholdi built Liberty in pieces, exhibiting a bit at a time to raise money to create more. Here is the torch being shown at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. At the bottom, Bartholdi set up a kiosk to sell souvenirs and tickets to the top.

3a53268u
4) Bartholdi showed the head at the Paris Exposition of 1878. It arrived on a wagon from the workshop where she was created, having wended her way through the streets of Paris. People waved and sang the Marseillaise as the massive head passed.

2P14-119 (E34)
5) To test the design, the statue was first put together in a neighborhood in Paris near the Parc Monceau. People could pay a ticket to climb up and look over the rooftops.

3a52740u
6) Liberty was inaugurated on October 28, 1886 in a heavy fog. Bartholdi himself tugged an enormous French flag from her face to reveal her to the world. A few weeks later, he ventured out in a nighttime rain to say goodbye to his creation. He told a reporter that he could no longer sense the immensity of her as he had when he was working on her in Paris. He said, “She is going away from me. She is going away from me.” She now belonged to America.

--Elizabeth Mitchell

The Wildest Books in America

Untamed Will Harlan’s new biography, Untamed, explores the remarkable and controversial life of Carol Ruckdeschel, a woman who eats road kill, stalks alligators, and lives in a ramshackle cabin on the wild Cumberland Island--the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island, off the Georgia coast--all in defense of sea turtles and the future of the park.

We asked Will for his perspective on environmental writing, as well as the books that inspired him to track down the story of the "wildest woman in America."

Untamed is an Amazon selection for 2014's Best Books of the Year So Far.


BEST VOICES OF ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING by Will Harlan

Nature writing can be pretty, and environmental books can be convincing, but I ultimately crave the raw emotion of fellow human beings struggling to find and protect their place in the world. The best environmental writing, I believe, is about people.

People are the problem and the solution. Good environmental writing reconnects people to nature—not through lectures, but through living, flesh-and-blood examples of courage and commitment. We feel the landscape through them.   

For years, I’ve tried to write about the tangled environmental politics of Cumberland Island. Finally, I realized that the best way to tell the island’s story was through the heartbreaking adventures of its most powerful personality. Carol’s experiences are more persuasive than any political argument.

Here are a few of my favorite environmental voices and books. Instead of preachy diatribes or flowery descriptions, they inspire me with gritty, gutsy characters—some legendary, some overlooked—who stand their ground and speak for the wild.

 

The Last American ManThe Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


A modern-day pioneer living nearly self-sufficiently on a wild reserve in Appalachia, Eustace Conway embodies the ideals of American masculinity—ruggedness, courage, and independence. However, those hard-fought ideals have a price. Liz Gilbert shows us the tired, lonely man behind the bravado. A tough, buckskin-clad maverick hunts for the one thing missing from his mountain refuge: love.

 

 



Into the Wild Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


Chris McCandless is either a stupid kid or self-reliant hero. As soon as he graduates college, he gives away all of his savings and wanders the wild, seeking adventure and an authentic relationship with the land—until he finds himself starving to death alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Barely able to lift a pen, he scribbles this final message, which continues to haunt and shape my own life: “Happiness only real when shared.”

 

 



Encounters with the Archdruid Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee


McPhee masterfully captures the nuances and complexities of the most influential modern environmentalist, David Brower, by shadowing him on close-combat crusades to protect America’s last wild places. But don’t expect classic confrontations with battle lines clearly drawn; Brower is far more kaleidoscopic. Like Brower himself, the book’s strength is in its subtlety, with finely drawn characters exquisitely presented in shades of gray.

 

 



Refuge Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams


Williams’ mother is dying from exposure to nearby nuclear testing, and wildlife is being wiped out by dams and development. In her unflinching memoir, Williams wrestles with life and death out in the wide-open Utah desert and seeks shelter where there is none.

 

 

 

 

Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodEcology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray


Ray’s hardscrabble upbringing in a south Georgia junkyard is an unlikely start for an environmental luminary, but the rusted scrap heaps of her childhood are chock full of raw, resourceful characters—including an authoritarian father who locks his family in a closet and a snuff-dipping coon hunter who introduces her to the wild woods. Ray weaves her own story into the razed red-clay landscape and leads a rebellion to save the South’s last longleaf pine forests.

 

 



Desert Solitaire Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey


It’s definitely the most sermonizing selection of the bunch, but Abbey’s coarse, thunderous voice crying out for the wilderness still echoes across the desert he called home. Amid his nerve-tingling adventures as a park ranger, the monkey-wrenching anarchist unleashes forceful, full-blooded pleas for the last scraps of wildlands.

 

 

 



The Lost Grizzlies The Lost Grizzlies by Rick Bass


Grizzly bears had not been seen for 15 years in southern Colorado until a small group sets out to find them. Bass seeks more than bears, though; he is tracking his own wildness and the longings of the human heart, which only are revealed in the presence of something larger.


Omnivoracious™ Contributors

July 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31