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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.

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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?!?

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> See all of Dean Koontz's books

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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  confrontatonal 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

> Follow him on Twitter

> 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

Best of the Year: Celebrity Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2014

It's becoming a thing: Each of the past few years, when we announce our editors' picks for Best Books of the Year, we also share a list of our favorite writers' favorite books.

This year we asked some of the biggest names in books, fashion, film, food, music, and more--all of whom have recent books of their own--to tell us about three books they loved in 2014. See which books Anne Rice, Brooke Shields, Lena Dunham, Norman Lear, Tory Burch, George Clinton, James Franco, Mark Bittman, Alan Cumming, Martin Short, Diana Gabaldon and others chose as their favorites.

The full roster is in alphabetical order below, or you can visit the Celebrity Picks page on Amazon.com.

Holly Black
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman
Grace Bonney
Grace Bonney
Tory Burch
Tory Burch
George Clinton
George Clinton
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming
Christopher Paul Curtis
Christopher Paul Curtis
Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo
Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond
Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham
Cary Elwes
Cary Elwes
Gayle Forman
Gayle Forman
James Franco
James Franco
Alan Furst
Alan Furst
Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon
Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat
Deborah Harkness
Deborah Harkness
Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand
 Gina Homolka
Gina Homolka
 Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney
 Norman Lear
Norman Lear
 Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman
 Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch
 Lianne Moriarty
Lianne Moriarty
 B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak
 James Patterson
James Patterson
 Stephanie Perkins
Stephanie Perkins
 Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult
 Anne Rice
Anne Rice
 Sarah Richardson
Sarah Richardson
 Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields
 Martin Short
Martin Short
 Lara Spencer
Lara Spencer
 Brandon Stanton
Brandon Stanton
 Garth Stein
Garth Stein
 Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart
 Brad Thor
Brad Thor
 Scott Westerfield
Scott Westerfield
Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer
 William Gibson
William Gibson
 Sean Brock
Sean Brock

"Fog Island Mountains" by Michelle Bailat-Jones wins Inaugural Christopher Doheny Prize

FogislandmountainsMichelle Bailat-Jones's novel Fog Island Mountains has won the first-ever Christopher Doheny Prize, which recognizes excellence in writing about serious illness. The prize was created by Audible in honor of Chris Doheny, an employee at Audible who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis in 2013.

Fog Island Mountains--the story of a man with terminal cancer whose wife disappears--was published this week, in paperback and audio (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda).

Our thanks to Diana Dapito, Director of Editorial Merchandising at Audible, for the following remembrance of Chris Doheny.

~

Chris Doheny--one of my closest friends and favorite colleagues--passed away in 2013 due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Unless you were part of his close inner circle (and even then the topic didn’t come up often), Chris didn’t talk much about his illness; about how difficult it was for him to breathe sometimes, and how a double-lung transplant, the last resort for treatment which Chris received in 2010, would still only potentially give him a few more years.

Chris Doheny2Instead, Chris liked to talk about books. (And music. And good coffee. And soccer. But a lot about books.) In our work together at Audible, Chris championed his favorites--Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Pastoralia by George Saunders, Tinkers by Paul Harding … long before it won the Pulitzer. The first book he ever recommended to me, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, is still one of my favorites, and my son loves Jon Klassen’s darkly funny I Want My Hat Back, a gift from ‘Uncle Chris’ that perfectly reflected his wicked sense of humor. Chris’s discerning taste and deep love of literature was prevalent in all facets of his life--he even named his pet rabbit Vonnegut. Towards the end, he was almost done writing his own novel, and it was at his request that his vast collection of books was given away at his funeral--the best way for a book lover to leave a piece of himself with his friends.

And when we knew that the end was coming, Audible’s publisher, Beth Anderson--the woman who hired both me and Chris and had been our mentor since 2004--worked with Chris to figure out the best way we could honor him. And so The Christopher Doheny Award was established with The Center for Fiction to recognize excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious physical illness. The author has to have personal experience dealing with life-threatening illness, either his or her own or that of a close relative or friend. Because even though Chris didn’t let CF define him, he thought it important that more books address the toll that serious illness can take on the patient, family and friends, and others.

I was honored to be a judge--along with Beth and the authors Ann Hood and Dani Shapiro--for the first prize awarded in Chris’s name. But I’ll admit I felt a lot of pressure reading through the submissions because Chris had such high literary standards and the winner absolutely had to reflect them. When I started reading Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones though, its atmospheric storytelling really stuck with me, as well as the notion that, in Japan, doctors would sometimes keep the dire realties of a terminal diagnosis from patients. (Something that would have driven Chris crazy.) I knew I’d found my pick for a winner, and was thrilled to find that it actually was the unanimous choice of all the judges. I have no doubt that Chris would be proud of this selection, and am excited for more readers and listeners to discover it.

~

About Christopher Doheny
 
Chris Doheny joined Audible, Inc. while in college as a summer intern in 2002 just a few years after the company was founded. After graduating from Georgetown University in 2003, he returned to Audible, Inc. and spent the next eight years helping to build the company. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just a baby, Chris strived to live as normal a life as possible. Chris received a double lung transplant in June 2010. He passed away on February 20, 2013.

Read more about the Chrisopher Doheny Prize here: http://centerforfiction.org/awards/the-christopher-doheny-award/

Guest Review: Michael J. Fox on "The Pollan Family Table"

PollanFamilyTableThe Pollan family is expanding a presence in our kitchens that began with Michael Pollan’s ground-breaking book, The Omnivore's Dilmena. Now it's the Pollan ladies, matriarch Corky and three sisters Lori, Dana, and Tracy, in the spotlight with The Pollan Family Table, a new cookbook that begs to be read and shared, used widely and often (we chose it as one of our Best Cookbooks of November).  

Beautifully photographed, the recipes are personal and accessible, with enough variety to easily put together a delicious meal for guests or night after night for family.

Besides the recipes, I also really like the section called Sage Advice that covers everything from replicating buttermilk using 2% and lemon juice to removing corn silk using a damp paper towel. 

Below, Michael J. Fox, married for more than two decades to Tracy Pollan, shares his thoughts on The Pollan Family Table.

PollanFamilyWomenCropped

 


 MichaelJFoxIn the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the authors of The Pollan Family Table are my wife, Tracy Pollan; her sisters Lori and Dana; and my mother-in-law, Corky. My brother-in-law, Michael Pollan, the Carl Sagan of food, wrote the foreword. Spoiler alert: my review is a rave.

How could it not be? Notwithstanding the fact that I’d like to keep my place at that eponymous table—one that I’ve had the privilege to hold for some twenty-five years—I can honestly and enthusiastically report that this collection of recipes, reflections, and gorgeous color photographs is a thoughtfully conceived, beautifully realized, invaluable asset to any family making dinner plans. Moreover, it’s a paean to those moments, however brief or infrequent they may be, when we gather the people we love and share a meal.

So much can get in the way of preparing and convening for a regular family dinner. But this book offers solutions to those problems with simple recipes that cater to any taste or occasion, running the gamut from soup (Creamless Broccoli Soup with Whole Roasted Garlic and Frizzled Leeks) to nuts (Key Lime Pie with Walnut Oatmeal Crust).

And there is something in this book you will love, no matter your appetite or dietary restrictions. Even nonvegetarians will rejoice at what I believe to be the most perfect veggie burger on the planet, the Supreme Crispy Quinoa Vegetable Burger. Seafood lovers are well served here, too, with favorite recipes like Smoky Sautéed Shrimp. And just looking at the Citrus-Roasted Chicken with Grand Marnier triggers a Proustian flashback, bringing to mind not only the aroma and juicy, subtle flavor but also a cascade of memories, conversations, plans hatched, jokes and stories told and retold at family get-togethers. The familiar food and setting provide a continuum. Proust describes it as “Time regained.” Marty McFly might exclaim, “You built a time machine . . . out of a beef tenderloin?”

Every family’s story develops around its own table. You share the moments, both seminal and trivial, that over time become your life. For us, it’s a banquette in the breakfast nook of our New York apartment. In the chaotic process of raising four children, we have put in so much time around our own table—not only with meals but also with homework and art projects and games of Clue—that Tracy and I have had to reupholster the bench seats at least half a dozen times.

But the definitive PFT is the trestle table in the dining room of Corky and Stephen’s Connecticut home. As the family multiplied, there became less and less space for new spouses and their offspring and weekend guests, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. Corky says that she and Stephen “were determined the family tradition would continue, with everyone able to sit together, rather than relegating the youngest to ‘the kids’ table.’ So ours became the ever-lengthening table.” When the table grew too large for the room, Corky and Stephen extended the house, knocking out a wall in the dining room to provide extra space for another half-dozen happy cousins.

So, yes, this is a book of delicious recipes, complete with pantry and market lists and tips on essential utensils and homespun advice; but what makes it compelling on the human level is its insistence that the family meal is not a thing of the past. The Pollan Family Table reassures that best intentions can be put into action and the results can enrich your family’s life in ways that are both harmonious and healthy. Corky, Lori, Tracy, and Dana share what they know so you can share with those you love. As I said, full disclosure: you knew it was going to be a rave because, after all . . . this is what my life tastes like. -- Michael J. Fox

Four Great Novels That Can Be Called Post-Multicultural (Or Not)

Who We BeJeff Chang has spent the better part of his adult life analyzing and chronicling the role of race in America. The result is Who We Be, a compendium of essays, photos, lyrics, and other snippets that define, well, Who We Be. Here’s how he puts his thoughts in the book (below). And here is Chang’s list, exclusively for Amazon customers, on further reading on related topics.

When the legendary curator Thelma Golden wanted to name the generation of Black contemporary artists who came of age around the turn of the millennium, she jokingly called them "Post-Black," as in post-civil rights, post-Black Arts, and as she put it, "post-Basquiat and post-Biggie." Writers of that generation—you might call even call them part of the hip-hop generation—shared lots of things with Golden's visual artists. They were no less concerned than previous artists with legacies of race and racism, but they had a different relationship to identity. Their elders had dealt with invisibility. They were dealing with visibility. They were writing for audiences who knew all about affirmative action, diversity trainings, and "political correctness"—but were just as stumped at how to forge racial progress. These audiences knew what not to say to each other, but not what to say next. These novels capture the difficulty—and, just as often, the absurd hilarity—of the post-multicultural, post-whatever, post-post era we are living through.

 

POST TIME:
Identity in the New Millennium

But if I have to choose between
I choose me
—Erykah Badu, “Me”, New Amerykah Part One: (4th World War)

There was a joke that was everywhere at the turn of the millennium. It had started long before, among high-school friends, back when the saying was, “It’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” But this post-“Black thing” thing was much smaller than that, even more impenetrable, a sub-tribal sign.

The joke had begun with a group of Black guys at a diverse high school in West Philly. It first surfaced in a two-and-a-half minute film short Stone had made with some of those same friends, called True.

It opens with a shot of Stone lying on the couch watching a football game. The cordless rings and it’s his friend Paul, lying on his own couch watching a kung-fu flick.

“’Sup with you?”
“Nuttin’ man, just chillin’.”
“True, true.”

The other characters don’t do much either: Dookie draws comic book characters, Fred picks up the phone and buzzes his friend Porto Rock into the apartment. The dialogue amounts to maybe a dozen words, the most meaningful of which is simply “Wazzzaaaaauuuuuup?!” When each says it, he stretches out the “aaauuuuuuuuh,” wags his tongue, bobs his head, improvises his own stupid faces in his own way.

By the end, Paul has changed the channel to the game, and he and Charles watch together, still having a non-conversation conversation.

“So what’s goin’ on, B?”
“Chillin’. ’Sup with you?”
“Nuttin man, just chillin’.”

And that was it—a group of Black men at rest, not called upon to perform, just being who they be. The short was like what an anthropologist might call “thick description,” what a psychologist might call “the opposite of micro-aggression,” what a comedian might call great material. Years later, when director/actor Charles Stone III’s Whassup? commercial for Budweiser debuted in the 2000 Super Bowl, it seemed that millions were let in on the joke, too.

Multiculturalism had allowed artists of color to toy with the possibility of no longer having to play a role already scripted for them. After multiculturalism, they might move beyond the aesthetics of uplift and respectability, be freed from the burden of representing positivity or confirming oppression. They could aspire just to be. They might still choose to represent identity, race, difference, and inequality. But they wanted to consider it a choice.

“Individuality,” wrote the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote in his 2005 post-multiculturalism book The Ethics of Identity, “is not so much a state to be achieved as a mode of life to be pursued.”1

Stone had been a music-video director, making videos like A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebum and The Roots’s What They Do that had slyly subverted Black male stereotypes. By the late 1990s the industry was changing. This short was Stone’s bid for new work. He knew he had something good, so he took his time. He spent two years writing it, and one more to shoot and finish the edit. He debuted True at a music video short festival in the summer of 1999.

An Irish-born-and-raised copywriter at agency DDB Chicago named Vinny Warren spotted True at a festival and brought it to Budweiser. Stone had worried about how the ad would play in the real world. “When people do it and do it badly, it’s like some old Blaxploitation shit, like straight-up minstrel,” he said.

“True” required context and specificity to work. Saying “Wazzzaaaaauuuuuup?!” to each other was an act of recognition. I see you. You and I are together in this moment. The ad had to be made by a Black director featuring an all-Black cast. Stone knew there would still be objections that his concept was “niche market.” Warren’s Irishness, his foreign-ness, Stone felt, allowed him to understand the nuances and see the big picture.

They still needed to pitch the concept to all the confused marketers, casting agents, and execs. In those sessions, Stone decided to describe it in gendered terms. “Look, it’s really simple. It’s men holding hands through the phone,” he would tell them. “It talks about that wonderful nothingness that men do that is actually quite complicated.”

One day DDB execs told Stone they wanted to try out a “multicultural” cast. By this, they meant that they wanted to try white actors. Maybe it was progress that whites could now see themselves in the “multicultural” thing. But wasn’t that still kind of missing the point?

On the last day of casting, Stone and Warren asked to bring back four of the five actors from the original True cast, just to compare them to the “multicultural” cast. Stone recalled, “Sure enough, they were like, ‘What are we doing? We should just stay with the original cast.’”

And so Stone turned up the lighting, put bottles of Bud in each character’s hands, and further slashed an already haiku-length script into what would become the commercial called Whassup? At the end the word “true” rested over a Budweiser logo. Six months later, he and his homies were partying in Cannes after receiving the Grand Prix, the global ad industry’s top award.

Fred Thomas—Stone’s old buddy turned international star—told a British reporter, “It was strictly our thing. Strictly our clique.2 It never went all over Philadelphia. Now the whole world is part of our clique.” One of the Cannes judges agreed, “It’s not just an ad campaign, it’s a movement.”3 Who in the history of advertising could have predicted that a sixty-second spot featuring a group of bored Black males would become the first globally viral ad of the millennium?

The joke among friends had become a joke shared around the world. But what was the world seeing?

 

1Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton University Press, 2005), 5.
2Simon Hattenstone, “Whassup?”,Guardian, October 25, 2000, http://www.theguardian.com/print/0,,4081177-103680,00.html.
3Michael McCarthy, “Budweiser’s ‘Whassup?!’ TV Ads Claim Grand Prix in Cannes,” USA Today, June 26, 2000.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

November 2014

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