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The Wilderness Within: Author Diane Cook on "Man V. Nature"

Man V. NatureClaire Cameron and I have something in common: we both like books about the struggle between humans and the natural world, especially when nature has the upper hand (see her list of "The Best Books About Getting Eaten" as proof). Her 2014 novel, The Bear, is the tale of camping trip gone wrong: a 300-pound black bear orphans five-year-old Anna and her younger brother, sending them on a terrifying flight for survival through the Canadian wilderness. Told through the voice of the young girl, it made the longlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which you may know by its former name, the Orange Prize.

So when I saw Man V. Nature--a collection of short stories about humans in peril, and particularly the ways they deal with it--passing it along to Claire seemed the obvious choice. And she liked it, enough to suggest an interview with author Diane Cook. Their conversation follows.


I was immediately intrigued by the title of Diane Cook’s new collection of stories, Man V. Nature. My intrigue doubled when I found that the title story is set on a raft.

I make a grand claim that I’ve read every "stranded on a raft" story in print. It’s probably not true, but maybe I’m close? Life of Pi by Yann Martel is an introduction to another Richard Parker in Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. From there I’ve spent 76 days lost at sea in Adrift with Steven Callahan and 117 days Staying Alive with Maurice and Maralyn Bailey.

I won’t go on forever, but my point is that "stranded on a raft" is almost like its own established genre. There is pressure on the writer who takes it on. She must bring something new.

When I saw that Cook had her own "stranded on a raft" story all I could think was, "Oh yeah? Surprise me." She did so, in spades. The title story in Man V. Nature seethes with heat, rejection and twisted perception. Like the very best raft stories, it pinpoints that moment where being lost in the wild brings out the wild in us.

I found myself enthralled by all of the stories in this collection. Not only are they surprising, but also fresh, funny, sad, often surreal and oddly true.

When I finished, I knew this was a writer I wanted to know more about. Cook, just back from the wilderness of her book tour, answered my questions by email.

--Claire Cameron

 

Claire Cameron: Your stories place characters in survival situations, like the three friends lost on a dinghy, co-workers in an office disaster, a woman in a shelter who is waiting for a placement with a new husband, and feral boys struggling to live through winter. All this hardship and I found myself cracking up. Why am I laughing?

Diane Cook: I’m glad you’re laughing. In general, I’m a funny person and my worldview, even when sad, is still rueful. Also, I think that as unreal as the situations in the stories are they aren’t at all unrealistic. There is the feeling (to me and I hope to other readers) that these are situations entirely possible even if they wouldn’t actually ever come to fruition. That they are things people ultimately are capable of. Which is uncomfortable.

Man V. NatureHumanity has come up with the most awful ideas and has rationalized them so successfully. And so there is the lightest dusting of satire and/or cynicism over the stories. This knowing wink is a bit of a relief in situations that would otherwise make us squirm. It’s comic. The knowing wink also leads us to some hope too. We recognize what’s wrong in these worlds. That’s half the battle.

CC: At the beginning of the collection you quote Emily Dickinson: "The Wilderness is new--to you. / Master let me lead you." I kept coming back to this and thinking about it. My idea: In your stories it is often a character's instinctive response to the unknown that leads to something new. What does the quote mean to you?

DC: In an abstract way, the quote says something to me about the characters and the worlds they are inhabiting. The characters are often bewildered by something their world is presenting them. They are new to it and need some kind of guidance. As the stories go on, who and what offers relief is unexpected and surprising. But I think leaders and guiding philosophies exist in the stories.

And the wilderness as an idea is very important to me, be it a wild wood, a bewildering society, or a wilderness of the mind. But the quote actually comes from a letter Emily Dickinson wrote to her longtime publisher and editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I believe she is writing about the recent death of his wife. And so the Wilderness is the grief after death and she is offering help as he navigates this new terrain, the landscape of grief and loss, a landscape she knows.

This is important to me too. My mother died just before I began writing in earnest and I know that many of these stories are grappling with loss in some sense. I began to work out some of my feelings of loss by watching my characters go through their paces with grief of all kinds.

CC: A few of the stories are set in worlds where civilization has collapsed in some way, yet the collection as a whole feels hopeful. Like in 'Moving On', a widowed woman in a shelter is placed with a new husband and manages to find good. Are people inherently hopeful?

DC: I’m glad you see the hope in here. I definitely do. I think people must be hopeful otherwise, why go on?

Each breath into the next is an affirming step toward more life. I really think of it coming down to each moment. Each breath is an inherently hopeful thing. In this next instant anything is possible, isn’t it?

Even when my characters hit a wall or find themselves far from where they’d hoped to end up, they are still making the effort to survive, whether in a world-ending flood, or just survive the ending of some relationship. The book is about this yearning to survive, an almost desperate one. And to me that is the same as hope.

CC: Some of your stories are a refreshing take on social norms, like the teacher in "Meteorologist Dave Santana" who has sex for pleasure. She is also somewhat of a misfit because the other teachers don't know how to be around someone with "no secret shame, guilt, trauma or self-hatred." Why do we suppress our instincts?

DC: This is one of my main fascinations in life, which must be why I end up writing about it so much in the book. All the characters grapple with this tension between how they want to behave and how they must behave. Some give in to impulses, others don’t.

In my own life I tend to catalogue these moments myself and wonder why I act how I act, and wonder how different I am from others when it comes to my impulses. I think we suppress our impulses as an overture of peace. I do what is expected of me in certain situations because someone, usually someone I love or someone who has influence over me, expects it. Or because I know that to not behave in a certain way causes problems for everyone else.

I’m the kind of person who tries to avoid making more work or hardship for others. I am, however, endlessly fascinated by people who don’t live like this. Fascinated and perhaps a little jealous sometimes. I write about these people sometimes, and other times I write the characters who are more like me.

In this way I end up stringing together a kind of portrait of how complicated it can feel to be a regular person in the world.

CC: The wilderness looms everywhere in your book, sometimes in the center of the story, sometimes in the edges and sometimes inside a character. What is the wild to your writing?

DC: I get most of my inspiration from the natural world. Many of the situations in these stories came from my observations of the lives of wild things and asking myself how humans would deal with a similar situation.

Like, with the story "Somebody’s Baby," I was thinking about how precarious the lives of newborn animals are in the wild and how there are always predators waiting to strike when a mother isn’t looking. Danger is just a way of life. And survival is a daily thought. I wondered how mothers in a suburb might react to a threat that is unavoidable and constant. Loss in the wild is a stark and common thing. I love thinking of humans as wild things just farther along a spectrum of being.

And I try to keep that sense of wildness in my characters. For me it is the only way the actions of people can begin to make sense. I think we’d be so much more comfortable in our skin as people or as a society if we didn’t deny our wild lineage. It’s always been my belief that the world makes more sense when we acknowledge that sometimes our rationality is at odds with our instincts.

Guest Post by Iris Johansen, Author of "The Perfect Witness"

IrisJohansenIris Johansen, New York Times bestselling author of "The Perfect Witness," shares with us her top five favorite mystery and thriller reads.

KILLER by Jonathan Kellerman. For psychological suspense, you can't go wrong with Kellerman's Alex Delaware, a brilliant psychologist who frequently consults with the Los Angeles Police Department. In "Killer", a bitter child custody battle between two sisters escalates in a most lethal and surprising way.

DIRTY MARTINI by J.A. Konrath. Chicago police detective Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels will keep you laughing even as you navigate the twists and turns of her homicide  investigations.

"Dirty Martini" finds her on the trail of a psychopath who's poisoning the city's food supply.

BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child. I'm a huge fan of Child's Jack Reacher series, which follows the adventures of a former military police officer who now lives off the grid, drifting from town to town. He's tough as nails, but appealingly sympathetic. In this book he squares off against a killer who is targeting members of his former elite military unit.

THE COVE by Catherine Coulter. It seems like everyone now reads the Catherine Coulter's riveting FBI series, but this is where it all began. Sally Brainerd is hiding from her father's killers in a small Oregon town, but when FBI agent James Quinlan arrived to try and bring her in, sparks fly and people start dropping dead. Romantic Suspense at its best.

BEYOND BELIEF by Roy Johansen. You didn't think I'd leave my son off this list, did you? Roy was an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer long before we started writing the Kendra Michaels books together. BEYOND BELIEF introduces paranormal debunker Joe Bailey, a police detective (and former magician) who exposes phony spiritualists and fortune tellers. But he begins to question his skeptical beliefs when he investigates a murder caused by possibly-supernatural means.

 

Anita Diamant on Her Latest Book, "The Boston Girl"

The Boston GirlAnita Diamant is the best-selling author of The Red Tent, now a Lifetime miniseries. In The Boston Girl--one of our Best of the Month picks for December--Diamant traces the life of Addie Baum, a Jewish woman coming of age in the early twentieth century.

The ideas/sparks/inspirations for my novels come to me randomly. I picked up a booklet in a Gloucester bookstore and discovered the history of the oldest settlement on Cape Ann and The Last Days of Dogtown followed. On my first visit to Israel, a tour took me to a living history museum called Atlit, where Jewish settlers were interned by the British authorities after the end of World War 2, and that was the source of Day After Night.

The working title for The Boston Girl was Rockport Lodge.

I’ve been vacationing in Rockport, Massachusetts since the early 1990s and must have driven past the place hundreds of times. A three-story white clapboard farmhouse with a sign out front, “Rockport Lodge” looked like many bed-and-breakfasts in town.

But one morning, I spotted a friend walking out the front door and pulled over. Pattie was working as Rockport Lodge’s cook that summer and she told me it was nothing like the other inns. It had been founded in the early 1900s (1906 in fact) to provide inexpensive chaperoned holidays to city girls of modest means. The policy remained “women only” and the prices ridiculously low. In 1990 it was $35 a day with free meals for women earning less than $12,400. Turned out, I had friends who stayed there. “Rustic” is how they described it.

During the 1990s, I watched the Lodge fall apart. The paint peeled, the shutters broke and the lawn got shaggy. In 2002, the windows stayed dark and weeds sprouted in the gutters. The wooden annex – a long, shotgun arrangement of guest rooms behind the big house--sagged and sank and looked like it might blow down in the next Nor’easter.  

The main building, built as a farmhouse in the 1750s, was much sturdier, but it was in bad shape, too. I peered through windows and shredded curtains into dusty common rooms. A set of Blue Willow china was displayed in the dining room. There were puzzles and books stacked on shelves and magazines open the occasional tables in the front parlor, where an old upright piano enjoyed pride of place. Hand-lettered signs were tacked up beside an old black wall telephone near the front door. The place was like one of those old steamer trunks full of secrets.

The perfect setting for a novel, right?

I tracked down the Rockport Lodge archives, which are housed at the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women at Harvard University: forty- seven boxes filled with fundraising letters, brochures, housekeeping minutia, newspaper clippings, board meeting agendas and scrapbooks. The scrapbooks are yellowed and brittle, scrawled with spidery signatures, inside jokes and pledges of undying friendship. There are also pictures of girls lined up in ankle-length skirts, girls lounging on Good Harbor Beach in daring 1920s swimsuits, girls wearing boxy shorts and bobby socks. The clothes are a fashion timeline and tell a story about profound changes in American women’s lives.

In 2006, Rockport Lodge was sold and the land subdivided. The original farmhouse is back in private hands and has an open floor plan and a kitchen with granite countertops. The only clue to its history is a small sign over the front door, which being is slowly erased by the seasons.

And now, The Boston Girl.

The Goodreads Interview: Stephen King

Goodreads_icon_1000x1000Thanks to our friends at Goodreads for this excerpt from their recent interview with Stephen King, whose new novel, Revival, was selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of 2014.

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KINGJust when you think Stephen King's well of pitch-black, sleep-with-the-lights-on horror must surely be running dry, he finds new and possibly even darker ways to terrify us. His latest novel, Revival, sees the author of more than 50 global bestsellers—including The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It—return to the "balls to the wall" (King's words) supernatural horror with which he made his name.

In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves." His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does.

Indeed King dedicates Revival, out this month, to "some of the people who built my house," including Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and H.P. Lovecraft. A story of fate, rock and roll, religion, obsession, and addiction, it follows Jamie Morton, a boy from Maine whose life becomes inextricably bound to his onetime childhood pastor, an increasingly sinister figure who performs mysterious electrical "healing" sessions.

Despite a near-fatal accident 15 years ago, after which he considered retiring, King remains prolific. Revival marks the author's fourth novel in two years: In June he released Mr. Mercedes, billed (on his website) as his "first hard-boiled detective tale"), and last year the 67-year-old published Joyland and Doctor Sleep, his gripping sequel to The Shining.

King tells Goodreads what inspired Revival, how tea by the gallon rather than drugs and alcohol now fuel his craft, and why he loves collaborating with his novelist sons, Joe Hill and Owen King.

Goodreads: Congratulations on the un-put-down-able Revival; my children almost went hungry. What was your inspiration for this book? And is it really "the most terrifying conclusion" you've ever written?

Stephen King: The inspiration was Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, which is a terrifying story about the world that might exist beyond this one. Other influences were Lovecraft, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and my own religious upbringing. And I've been wanting to write about tent show healings for a long time!

I wanted to write a balls-to-the-wall supernatural horror story, something I haven't done in a long time. I also wanted to use Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but in a new fashion, if I could, stripping away Lovecraft's high-flown language.

GR: The book is concerned with what you call the "fifth business," "change agent," or "nemesis"—the person who pops up at regular intervals throughout life with a purpose yet to be revealed. Who is this person in your life, if there is one?

SK: I think we rarely recognize the fifth business in our lives at the time those people are changing us. As a writer, I'd have to say it was Philip Roth, who first spoke to me in college when I read [Roth's 1967 novel] When She Was Good. Since then, he's shown up again and again, at 10- or 20-year intervals, always saying—through his work—"Come a little farther. Do a little better."

GR: How did your experience of addiction and playing in a rock band (the Rock Bottom Remainders) inform your portrayal of the hero Jamie Morton?

SK: There's a saying—"Write what you know." It's bad advice if you take it as an unbreakable rule, but good advice if you use it as a foundation. I did spend years as an addict, so I know that world, although I wish I didn't. When it comes to rock music, I'm not much of a player, but I do have entry-level chops. I'm more knowledgeable as a listener, and Revival gave me a way to write about rock and roll without being preachy or boring. Through Jamie I had a chance to talk about how important rock is to me and how it lifted my life.

GR: Revival seems as much a meditation on family and aging, love and loss, as it is a mystery/horror story. Was this your intention from the outset?

SK: I never have a thematic intention at the outset. The story informs the theme for me rather than the other way around. But as it happens, you're right—this is, at least to a degree, about getting old and the rapid passage of our lives. "It's a damn short movie," James McMurtry says, "how'd we ever end up here?"

GR: There's a line on page 25 that says, "Writing is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped." How true is this for you in your fiction?

SK: Writing is like being in a dream state or under self-directed hypnosis. It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.

GR: Which of your books/stories are you most attached to and why?

...READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW AT GOODREADS.COM...

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About the interviewer:

Catherine Elsworth is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She previously worked as a reporter and editor for the UK's Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for 13 years and was the Daily Telegraph's Los Angeles correspondent from 2004 to 2009. She has also contributed to Tatler, Stella, and Cond&eacute Nast Traveller. In 2012, she was a semifinalist for the 21st annual James Kirkwood Literary Prize for fiction.

Dean Koontz Interviews His Dog, Anna, Who Interviews Him

Dean Koontz's latest novel is The City. On December 9 he's publishing a Kindle Single, Odd Thomas.

His dog Anna's, ahem, new book is Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn.

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Dean Interviews Anna

AnnaDEAN: Hey, sweetie, how does it feel to see your first book, Ask Anna, in print?

ANNA: Better than a bee stinging me on the nose, maybe not as good as being given a membership in the Sausage-of-the-Month Club. I'm a little worried about the celebrity thing, so I've ordered a custom disguise that makes me look like a poodle.

DEAN: There's an article in your book that reveals how people like Noah and Albert Einstein changed history by listening carefully to their dogs' advice. Are you aware of any more recent famous people who failed to heed the advice of their dogs?

ANNA: Tragically, yes. Mr. Johnny Depp's dog warned him not to play Tonto.

DEAN: Is there any down side to a dog being a successful author?

ANNA: Carpal-tunnel paw. Hollywood wanting to buy the film rights and recast me as a gerbil to be played by Adam Sandler in a furry suit. Perhaps a catty review here and there. Static electricity from the computer screen standing my fur on end, so that for hours at a time I go around looking as if I stuck my tongue in a wall plug.

~

Anna Interviews Dean

Koontz2ANNA: Hey, Dad, what's it like having to share the limelight with me now that I'm a published author?

DEAN: I have no jealousy whatsoever. I hope you enjoy a career that is bigger than mine. And don't worry: I would never--never!--put one of those annoying post-surgery cones around your head for no reason at all except envy or something. And I would never--never!--change your name to Pussycat and make you answer to it.

ANNA: Good to know. Sometimes we go for a ride in the car and you let me drive, and then you insist on sticking your head out the window. Are you mocking me when you do that?

DEAN: No, short stuff. It's fun! All the great smells!! My ears flapping in the breeze!!! People pointing and laughing!!!!

ANNA: Since my book is about advice, is there any advice I've given you that you're sorry you didn't take?

DEAN: That incident with the angry ferret comes to mind. But they sewed the thumb back on nearly where it was before, and I can still hitchhike with it if I ever need to.

ANNA: Hey, Dad, let me put the loop of my leash around your hand, and I'll take you for a walk.

DEAN: Great! Can we go to the park? Can we? Can we? Will you throw the ball for me? Better yet, the stick! Will you throw the stick?!?

~

> See all of Dean Koontz's books

> See Anna on Facebook

Excerpt: "The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps," by Diogo Mainardi

ThefallBrazilian author and journalist Diogo Mainardi's unflinching story about raising a son, Tito, with cerebral palsy, The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps is comprised of 424 short passages, each representing Tito's steps walking toward the hospital whose errors caused his disability. 

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Just before he was 6 months old, Tito went for another examination at Padua Hospital.

His neurologist lay him face down on the stretcher. At that moment, he should have rolled over onto his back. Instead, he merely waved his little arms about, but -- like a turtle -- he was unable to turn over.

That was the first sign that he had cerebral palsy.

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I had found out that my wife was pregnant exactly one year before.

I wrote about it on 23 February 2000 in my column in the magazine Veja.

I started by saying that, up until then, my rejection of fatherhood had been one of the rare, unquestioned certainties of my life. I went on to say that my wish -- and I quote word for word -- was to have "a turtle child, and whenever he became too agitated, I would just have to roll him onto his back and he would lie there, silently waving his little arms."

I got my turtle child.

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Some days after the examination at Padua Hospital, we received the results through the post. According to the neurologist, Tito had suffered "damage to the extrapyramidal system."

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I know how to read.

Reading is my job. I think by reading. I feel by reading. When we received the result of the examination at Padua Hospital, I read all about the extrapyramidal system. Nothing I read prepared me for what we were about to discover.

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Now I know what Tito has.

According to the neurologists who have examined him over the last few years, the damage to his thalamus was caused by his bungled birth. The thalamus is part of the extrapyramidal system. The damage is infinitesimal, so much so that no machine has ever yet managed to detect it. But it's serious enough to affect all his movements.

Tito can't walk, pick things up or talk normally.

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After examining Tito, the neurologist at Padua Hospital sent him to a physiotherapist at Venice Hospital.

During the weeks that followed, the physiotherapist put him through a series of tests.

It was only when all the tests were over that -- with a feeling of fear and panic -- I first heard the term which, from that moment on, would come to dominate my life.

Tito had cerebral palsy.

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The fear lasted a week.

Then it passed.

The reason why it took only a week for the fear to pass was a fall.

Tito was sitting on my lap. I was sitting on the sofa in the living room reading the newspaper. My wife, who was rushing about, caught her foot on the rug and fell flat on her face in front of us. When Tito saw her fall, he laughed out loud. We both pretended to fall over. And he laughed and laughed and laughed. And we laughed with him.

Tito's cerebral palsy immediately became more familiar. Slapstick was a language we all understood.

Tito falls. My wife falls. I fall.

What unites us -- what will always unite us -- is the fall.

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Abbott and Costello Go to Mars: On a voyage into outer space, Lou Costello gets his astronaut's boot caught in a storm drain and falls over when he wrenches it free.

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Francesca Martinez is a comedian.

She has cerebral palsy. All her performances revolve around that topic.

According to her, the term cerebral palsy can only have been invented to induce "fear and panic." That is why she likes to be described as a "wobbly" person. She is always wobbly, always about to fall.

Francesca Martinez's humor -- like Lou Costello's -- takes its inspiration from her falls.

Cerebral palsy is her astronaut boot caught in a storm drain.

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Francesca Martinez told the Daily Mail what had happened to her.

Her cerebral palsy, like Tito's, was caused by a medical error. Her mother was left unattended for some hours because "being a Sunday there were fewer hospital staff on duty." Francesca remained in the womb and was left without oxygen for seven minutes.

Cerebral palsy, she explains, "occurs when part of the brain fails to work. It affects one child in five hundred. Each case is unique, but usually people's muscle control and mobility are affected."

The best way to describe how cerebral palsy affects her is that she appears to be "slightly drunk." Her speech is slurred and her balance wobbly.

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Two weeks after learning that Tito had cerebral palsy, I wrote about it in my column in Veja:

My 7-month-old son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. From the outside, that piece of news might seem utterly desperate. From the inside, though, it's different. It was as if they had told me my son was Bulgarian. If I discovered that my son was Bulgarian, the first thing I would do would be to consult a book to find out more about Bulgaria: gross national product, principal rivers, mineral wealth, etc. And that is what I did with cerebral palsy.

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After saying that cerebral palsy was a term that struck fear into the heart and that, for the first time in my life, I belonged to a minority, I ended the column in this shamelessly sentimental way:

I consider myself to be a humorous writer. For me, there is nothing funnier than frustrated expectations.
Frustrated expectations about social progress.
Frustrated expectations about scientific discoveries.
Frustrated expectations about the power of love.
I have always worked from that anti-enlightenment viewpoint. Now I've changed. I now believe in the power of love. Love for a little Bulgarian.

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From that moment on, Tito's cerebral palsy became a recurrent theme in my columns.

Over a period of ten years, I devoted eight columns to him.

If, as Francesca Martinez estimated, cerebral palsy affects, on average, 1 child in 500, I published a column on the subject, on average, every 500 days.

Cerebral palsy affected the lives of my readers as often as it affects life in general.

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In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Francesca Martinez stated: "That's the huge secret about disability -- anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love."

In my first article about Tito, that was the only "huge secret" I had to reveal.

Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy was never a cause for sorrow. Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy never seemed a burden.

At 7 months, Tito was simply a person we loved.

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In mid-2001, we took Tito to see a neurologist in New York.

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Tito and me in New York.

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In New York, I became Tito's first mode of transport.

He would point left and I would go left. He would point right and I would go right. He would point at his grandmother and I would hand him over to his grandmother.

Tito would choose my fate by sending me off to the right or to the left.

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The New York neurologist was very encouraging.

After doing a few tests, he predicted that, in two years' time, Tito would be speaking normally. He also predicted that, in four years' time, Tito would be walking on his own.

Both predictions proved false.

Tito never spoke normally. He never walked on his own.

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Christy Brown had cerebral palsy.

During the first few months of his life, his parents took him to various neurologists in Dublin.

They all said that Christy Brown would remain forever in a state of "torpor," because he was an "idiot," "mentally defective," a "hopeless case" and "beyond cure."

In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy Brown described how he was able to overcome the worst prognoses, finding a way of typing and painting with the big toe of his left foot.

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Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to ignore all the doctors' stupid prognoses, whether positive or negative. Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to celebrate each step taken by Tito, however wobbly.

After a certain point, we even learned to celebrate his falls. In the early years, Tito would always hurt himself when he fell. Over time, he developed new ways of breaking his falls.

Knowing how to fall is much more valuable than knowing how to walk.

Punk Rock Girl

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A MemoirViv Albertine's new memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a book is divided almost straight down the middle. Side One is the story of her upbringing in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill: It's the mid-seventies, and the Sex Pistols are at the head of a massive, angry (or at least frustrated) cultural insurgence. Her rebellious tendencies have led her into the center of punk culture, and inspired by its outsized personalities and  confrontational style, she picks up a guitar, forsaking traditional training for the DIY ethos of the day. After her band with the pre-Pistols Sid Vicious (The Flowers of Romance--a possibly sardonic suggestion from Johnny Rotten) fails to launch, Albertine joins forces with The Slits, a ska-infused, all-girl outfit that, through the force of its collective will and audacity, elbows its way to the front of a stage filled with sharp, mostly male elbows. Everyone is wearing Vivenne Westwood's provocative clothing purchased from Malcolm McLaren's infamous boutique, SEX--at least as much as they could afford. Mick Jones of The Clash wanders in and out of the story, first as a gangly proto-punk spending all of his time and loose change trying to put together a band, and later as Albertine's on-again, off-again boyfriend (the classic London Calling track "Train in Vain" was inspired by her). It's a story in the best rock & roll tradition: Initiative leads. Ability chases. Success looms. Then someone bumps the turntable.

Side Two. The band has blown apart. Grownup problems ensue: education and career; marriage and kids; serious illness, divorce, and identity. The actor Vincent Gallo. Albertine moves through all of it, drawing from the same well of determination that compelled her to pick up the guitar for the first time. The two sides of the book may tell very different stories, but they share perspective and style that are both straightforward and ultimately uncompromising. If you love this music (and your library contains titles like Please Kill Me and Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp), then this book is fascinating and essential. If not, it's fascinating and inspiring. It's occasionally coarse, and often terribly funny and fun.

In the spirit of the title, we asked Albertine three memorable examples of the three main themes: clothes, music, and boys.

 

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes
Your three memorable articles of clothing or outfits, where & when you wore them, where you got them, and what made them special.

My first cool outfit was by mail order, all the rage in the 1960s. It was a purple corduroy three piece suit, a fitted jacket, mini-skirt and hipster bell-bottom trousers with big belt loops. It came in pieces, so my mother had to sew it all together. Best of all there was a "Donovan" peaked cap included, like a Dylan cap, which I wore to death.

When I first went to Vivienne Westwood's shop "Sex" in 1975, I couldn’t believe that what I was thinking about and drawing at art college, someone else had thought to put onto clothes. I’d never thought of combining erotica, feminism and insurgency with items of clothing. I wore this look with my own embellishments from that day onwards and I didn’t have one peaceful journey through London for the next six years because of it.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaAs my 18-year marriage started to fall apart, because I’d started to play my Telecaster again (still a powerful weapon in the wrong hands), I began to think about how I was dressing. I had become very conventional, not wanting to be noticed, hiding away in a nice house by the coast away from London, and I had to think again about who I was, who I wanted to project with my clothes. You hear all these phrases like "mutton dressed as lamb," but I think good taste is good taste whatever age you are, and clashing prints with cuban heels now or matted hair and loads of black eye-liner back then are good taste - my version of good taste.

Music, Music, Music
Three inspiring/influential/rewarding musical experiences of your life. Bands that you’ve seen, shows that you’ve played, people you’ve met, or any other musical moment.

The first time a live show transported me was when I saw Fleetwood Mac play at a free night-time outdoor concert on a wild piece of land called Hampstead Heath near my home in North London. Everything about the evening was dark and mysterious and forbidden. Fleetwood Mac came on and played "Albatross," the guitars wailed over the tops of the black silhouetted trees, I felt like I was flying and swooping with them.

The second time has to be when I saw the Sex Pistols live at Chelsea School of Art. I was transfixed by Johnny Rotten, not because he was extraordinary, but because he was as near someone like me that I had ever seen on stage and I found that shocking, inspiring and fascinating. He couldn’t sing or play an instrument (like me), he came from North London, a poor family, below-average schooling, bad housing (all like me) and yet unlike me, he wasn’t ashamed, apologetic or embarrassed about any of this. The next day I went out and bought a Les Paul Junior and started to learn to play guitar.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaI stopped playing music for twenty five years. I felt it wasn’t an interesting medium anymore. By 2008 a couple of things had happened, the internet (making it possible to reach people without the conduit of record company men), I became healthy again and I went back to art school one day a week to explore my thoughts and feelings creatively. All this made me want to pick up the guitar and play and write songs again. Big changes in your life aren’t always about eureka moments, sometimes it’s just painfully slow, hard work and dogged determination.

Boys, Boys, Boys
Three who had a profound effect on her life, good or not so good.

The thing is, in the 1970s, ordinary girls and women were very repressed and oppressed, we had no role models, I never once met an interesting woman, in the arts or music who I could imagine being. They weren’t even in the media. The first woman who resonated with me was Yoko Ono. So I was influenced by boys. I wanted to do things boys did and I dated boys that interested me on that level. That realisation has made boys less interesting to me. What do I want or need from them now? Especially now I have my own home and a child. If it’s just about companionship, for years on end…well, that person is hard to find, male or female.

The three boys I nominate are: my first proper boyfriend, Magnus (who I still know and love, we are neighbours), he was interesting, well-read, an amazing artist, from a poor background, and I followed in his footsteps for a while to gigs and art school. I was thirteen, he was fifteen and we went out together for three years.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaNumber two has to be Mick Jones (guitarist with the Clash) who I met at art school when I was nineteen. I watched as he tried over and over again to form bands, full of passion, love of music and determination, which was very rare in a young person back then. He was also extremely intelligent, self-taught, interested in politics and all aspects of life. From him I learnt how to run a band. We are still friends and love each other too.

Number three is myself. I am the boy now. I am whole. I don’t look to a man to complete me, to inspire me, to lead me somewhere I haven’t quite got the courage to go to by myself. It’s taken fifty or so years to get here. Love and romance sure do look different from this perspective. Most relationships look a bit pathetic to me to be honest. I am questioning what two people are doing, clinging together for years and years on end, way past the relationship’s sell-by date. I would like a new paradigm to be the norm, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Photos 1 and 2 by Carolina Ambida; photo 3 courtesy the author

Moosewood Cookbook 40 Years Later: A Guest Post by Mollie Katzen

MoosewoodCkbk400It's hard to believe, but the Moosewood Cookbook turns 40 this year with a beautiful commemorative edition that includes a new introduction by author Mollie Katzen.  

According to the New York Times, Moosewood Cookbook is one of the top ten best-selling cookbooks of all time and for many of us it revolutionized the way we think about vegetarian cooking.  First published as a spiral-bound notebook with hand-written recipes and simple illustrations,  this classic cookbook has stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular guides to making delicious home-cooked vegetarian dishes.  Restaurants today pride themselves on menus highlighting seasonal ingredients, but in the pages of this cookbook Mollie Katzen has been showing home cooks how to make the most of in season fruits and vegetables for decades.

We asked Katzen to write a guest post for us, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her first cookbook*, and to share her favorite recipe from the book which turns out to be Califlower-Cheese Pie.

*Since Moosewood Mollie Katzen has written several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.


The original Moosewood Cookbook originated, in part, from random notes used to help keep track of what my friends and I were cooking in the tiny kitchen of our modest 1970s restaurant. “Vegetarian” was in the early stages of becoming a “thing,” but it was highly unofficial. We were greatly inspired by international dishes as remembered from various world travel (actual or via the “ethnic restaurant” route), discovering cuisines from other countries that placed far less emphasis on meat and more on creative preparation of garden- and orchard-sourced ingredients.  (At that time, hardly anyone in the United States had heard of tabouli, pesto, hummus, or many other then-considered-exotic items that are now ubiquitous.)

Our food was largely plant-based, although that term was not yet in anyone’s vocabulary. The notebook was an attempt to more or less standardize our “cuisine,” which was varied and eclectic and often quite spontaneous—determined largely by the produce delivery of the day and the imagination and skill level of the cook. We had a casual approach to everything (including the idea of standardization itself), so this would ideally help us keep things somewhat consistent.  An inveterate journal keeper and art school graduate, I turned these notes into a booklet, speaking with an informal voice through my own hand-lettering (didn’t own a typewriter; computers decades short of existing) and pen-and-ink illustrations.

In 1974, I photocopied the booklet and sold copies through a local bookstore. Over the next couple of years, it ended up selling thousands of copies. In the fall of 1977, the national edition (the one many people have come to know) was first published by Ten Speed Press. It was not an overnight sensation; it actually took a few years to catch on and begin to sell. To this day, amazingly, the Moosewood Cookbook has never been out of print.

For Moosewood Cookbook’s 40th birthday celebration, Ten Speed and I have collaborated on an upgraded package with a fresh new look, built to last. For those of you with old, stained, notated, dog-eared, scotch-taped, rubber-banded (and in some cases, coverless) copies from yesteryear, you might appreciate this newly refreshed edition—whether for yourself or for someone who is new to this tome, inspired more by  curiosity, perhaps, than nostalgia.  In any case, we are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with you.  We hope these recipes—and this style of cooking, in general—will call out to you, giving you a range of ideas to keep your cooking fresh in all ways and helping you make or keep your kitchen a place of creativity and enjoyment.  --Mollie Katzen

 

CauliflowerCheesePieRecipe

 

Guest Essay: David Baldacci, on the Origins of "The Escape"

In David Baldacci's latest novel, special agent John Puller hunts down an escaped prisoner who's become the most wanted man in America--his own brother. The Escape is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for November.

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Baldacci2The year was 1983. I was sitting in my law school class at the University of Virginia. It was my first year there and I didn’t really know anyone. We had name placards that we had to slide into slots in front of us so the professor could call on us by name. No pressure. Sitting next to me was a young man in full military dress blues. I found out later the JAG (Judge Advocates General) School--which trained military lawyers--was located right next to the law school. Military lawyers-in-training would also have classes with us regular folks. I remembered being quite impressed. Over three decades later I conjured up that old memory to write a scene in my new novel, The Escape.

In creating the John Puller series and wanting to immerse myself in the military world as much as I could without actually enlisting, I flew to Fort Benning in Georgia to spend three days with the infantry and the elite Army Rangers. (See photos below.) Jumping off parachute towers, firing sniper rifles, escaping from upside down Humvees and trying to keep up with two rock-hard Command Master Sergeants in performing the Army’s functional fitness training regimen was just what I needed to write the sort of books I wanted to. And most importantly of all, listening to soldiers from privates all the way up to generals tell me why they wanted to put on the uniform and risk their lives. That sort of information you simply can’t get by searching online.

The Escape is ultimately a book about brothers. So being the history buff that I am, I included a bit of history about two siblings from long ago, one famous, one not. We all know the story of General George Armstrong Custer, the flamboyant and publicity-seeking Civil War veteran who is best remembered for leading his Seventh Calvary to slaughter at Little Big Horn. What many folks may not know is that George had a younger brother named Thomas Custer, who was awarded not one, but two Medals of Honor during the Civil War for capturing two Confederate Regimental Battle flags. The second instance cost him a gunshot wound to the face, but did not stop him from riding back to his lines with the captured flag. This very same brother, along with an even younger brother, Boston, followed their older brother George to the very end, dying with him at Little Big Horn. Love can truly make you blind. But family is also forever.

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> See all of David Baldacci's books

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> Visit his website

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"Like a Mix of Don Draper and Rasputin": Moving & Shaking in 21st-Century Russia

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New RussiaWhen the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, the West rejoiced with the relief that came with the end of the Cold War and the possibility of an era of peace and cooperation. At the same time, its corporations and conglomerates trained a beady eye toward its newly opened markets, and a seemingly virgin economic landscape soon became home to icons such as Coke and McDonalds and Levi’s. But the door was open wide, and tagging along with big business were some seedier characters: organized crime, a youth-and-glamour-obsessed oligarchy, and an entertainment complex hungry for the new concepts of its Western counterparts. That’s where Peter Pomerantsev comes in. Born in Kiev but raised in Great Britain, Pomerantsev returned to Russia as a consultant to its burgeoning film and television—especially “reality” television—industries. What he found was a capitalist’s wet dream: an unfettered cash and service economy with no apparent limits on cash or available services--one where Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, if you can pay for it. At the top of it all sits Vlad Putin, infusing the old TASS tactics with Hollywood flair to create a vision of a bare-chested (bear-chested?) virility and power, of both self and state. Pomerantsev finds himself gazing deeper into this looking-glass world—willingly and otherwise—and he finds it impossible to look away, as will his readers. This is not your father’s Russia, and yet it kind of is.

All that sounds hyberbolic, right? But it's all there. And to demonstrate, Pomerantsev has provided short biographies of some of the book's most interesting players. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month.

 


Peter Pomerantsev (photo by Natasha Belauskine) Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: A Cast of Characters

By Peter Pomerantsev

 

Vladislav Surkov: The Kremlin "Vizier"
"Egor could see to the heights of creation...."

The hidden author of the Putin system, Surkov trained as a theater director, made his name as a PR guru before going on to become one of Putin's right hand men, running Russian politics like a mix of Don Draper and Rasputin. In his spare time he pens satirical, self-referential novels about cynical political operators who have sold their souls, writes rock lyrics and essays on modern art. When asked for his reaction to being sanctioned by US and EU for playing a key role in the annexation of Crimea Surkov answered: "I see the decision by the administration in Washington as an acknowledgment of my service to Russia. It’s a big honor for me. I don't have accounts abroad. The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing."

Oliona: A Moscow Holly Golightly
"It's all true, you can really have the life; it's not just in the movies!"

Oliona has come to Moscow from a bankrupt mafia-run mining town to make it as a gold-digger in the city's decadent clubs. She's quite open, even proud of her bag of tricks, and attends a gold-digger school where she's taught how to seduce and keep an oligarch: never wear jewelry on a first date, she learns, dress down- so that he wants to buy you presents. But she's hitting her mid-twenties and that might spell the end of her career. She worries her sugar daddy is going off her, while her generation dream of Putin as the ultimate sugar daddy of them all.

Vitaly: Gangster Turned Film Director
"Usually you’d be one of my victims. But in this case we'll be partners."

Vitaly used to be a gangster in Siberia. Then he took all his all-gotten gains and ploughed them into the movie business. But they're no ordinary movies. He makes films about his own life, with himself in the main role, and his gangster buddies playing themselves. He spent years behind bars watching gangster movies and thought they were all fake: only a real gangster can make a real gangster movie.

Jambik Hatohov: The Fattest Boy in the World

Jambik Hatohov is 7 years old and weighs over a hundred kilograms (220 pounds), making him the biggest boy in the world. He lives in the North Caucascus, in a part of the country where the choice growing up is between being a wrestler or a Jihadi. His single mum thinks she can use Jambik's weight as a way out of the squalor, and hopes he can become a TV star. Meanwhile more and more "black widows," the name given to suicide bombers form the North Caucascus, make their way to Moscow to blow themselves up in the name of Allah.

Yana Yakovelva: Imprisoned Business Woman
"You think prison is something bad that happens to other people. And then you wake up and my God you’re a convict."

Yana was a poster girl for the new, capitalist Russia, running her own petro-chemicals business and living what seemed like a perfectly successful, Western-style life. But in Putin's Russia, normality is only ever an illusion. When some high-level bureaucrats want a piece of her company they throw her in prison on trumped up charges--and Yana is plunged into another Russia of convicts and corrupt courts. As she fights to get out, she finds her own case leads right to the top of the Kremlin.

Alexander Mozhaev: The Guardian Spirit of Old Moscow
"The drama of human lives is written in the buildings. We will be gone; only places remain."

The city is destroyed to make way for neo-Stalinist skyscrapers, and Mozhaev tries to save the last vestiges of the old town. This is more than about just buildings, in a system which is misusing history in the name of tyranny the fight for the city becomes a fight for a different sort of Russia. Mozhaev is the last romantic in a city of corruption.

Ruslana Korshunova: Supermodel
"I'm so lost, will I ever find myself?"

A Russian supermodel, star of a Nina Ricci ad, who killed herself by jumping from a NY skyscraper. She seemed perfectly happy, wasn't into drugs, was preparing to go to university. What lead to her death? Was it a tragic love story? Could it have been murder? And is her death connected to that of another top model who also died by jumping from a high-rise, this time in Kiev?

The Night Wolves
"We only have a few years to rescue the soul of holy Russia."

As Moscow plunges into a messianic fervor sects bubble to the surface. None is more striking than the Night Wolves, a Russian Hells Angels biker gang who have found God and see themselves on a mission to save the Russian soul from the decadent, Satanic West. Their faith combines Orthodox Christianity with a worship of Stalin and heavy metal. Surkov, as ever, is in the background, making the Night Wolves national stars as the Kremlin toys with a dangerous, and surreal, religious nationalist ideology.

Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich
"This is a very Russian story, with lots of killers, where the president himself is almost a killer."

Two Russian oligarchs--now based in London--who are fighting the largest private litigation in history. Berezovsky, the older mentor known as the "Godfather of the Kremlin," accuses his protégé, Abramovich, known as the "Stealth Oligarch," of "acting like a gangster" and extorting a five-billion-dollar company from him. The trial opens up the insides of the Putin system, showing how it is increasingly growing to influence the West as the Russian super-rich descend onto London, Monaco and New York.

Vladik Mamyshev Monroe
"I want to try on every persona the world has ever known."

A performance artist, the inevitable guest at parties attended by the inevitable tycoons and supermodels, arriving dressed as Gorbachev, a fakir, Tutankhamen, the Russian President. In a world where gangsters become artists, gold diggers quote Pushkin and Hells Angels hallucinate themselves as saints and where "performance" is the buzz-word Vladik is a mascot and prankster philosopher. But as the new Russia tumbles from decadence to madness, from glamour to dictatorship, he finds himself appalled at the very cult of performance he celebrates: "Putin will eat up our country," he writes. "One day we will reach into the cupboard and reach for our clothes and they will turn to dust in our hands because they have been eaten by maggots."

 

Author photo by Natasha Belauskine

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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