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About Jon Foro

A remorseless reader since age six when he ordered his first book (Hardy Boys 53: The Clue of the Hissing Serpent, with a coupon clipped from the back of a Cheerios box), Jon has spent over 20 years in the book business, and over 14 years at Amazon.com. He enjoys ancient history, literary fiction, and adventure and nature writing, especially books about bears.

Posts by Jon

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.

Danny Clinch & the Majesty of Rock

If you love music, you've probably seen Danny Clinch's work. Over decades of work, he has photographed the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Tupac, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Jay-Z, and... the list goes on. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Spin, Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker, as well as on hundreds of album covers.

His new monograph, Danny Clinch: Still Moving, collectes more than 200 iconic photographs, personal anecdotes, and a foreword by Bruce Springsteen. Enjoy these images from the book, a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of 2014 in Arts & Photography.

Danny Clinch also plays harmonica. See more at www.dannyclinch.com.

 


Images from Danny Clinch: Still Moving

 

Danny Clinch

Radiohead, 1994

 

Danny Clinch

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

Nas, 1993

 

Danny Clinch

Gregg Allman, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

Eddie Vedder & Neil Young, 2006

 

Danny Clinch

Bruce Springsteen, 2003

 

Danny Clinch

Chuck Berry, 2011

 

Danny Clinch

The Roots, 2011

 

Danny Clinch

Lucinda Williams, 2008

 

Danny Clinch

Arcade Fire, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

He's Your Man: Leonard Cohen on Tour

On Tour with Leonard CohenBeing a Leonard Cohen fan is hard work, because there are so many Leonard Cohens. There's Sad Balladeer Leonard Cohen, the one who sings ruefully nostalgic love dirges about seedy hipster hotels. There's Dark Pop Leonard Cohen, the one who drapes classics like "Everybody Knows" in mid-tempo synthesizers and surrounds them what I have described elsewhere as Canadian Disco, a somewhat pat  designation since there's probably no such thing. Don't forget Transgressive Novelist Leonard Cohen, author of Beautiful Losers, a post-Beatnik phenomenon of a book that pushed the boundaries of acceptable subject matter even in 1966, the year it was published. And then there's Your Favorite Uncle Leonard Cohen, because that's what he looks like.

It's hard work being a Leonard Cohen fan, because many men are hard to know. That's what makes On Tour with Leonard Cohen so compelling. Sharon Robinson--a collaborator of Cohen's for more than 30 years--has collected hundreds of images from over six years of nearly constant touring, an odyssey that began when Cohen was forced back onto the road after being bilked of his savings. Here we witness the full experience of life on tour, from the mundanity of planes and hotel rooms to the warmth and camraderie of a group of like-minded artists. And many cool hats.

Enjoy these images from On Tour with Leonard Cohen.

 


Words and Pictures from On Tour with Leonard Cohen by Sharon Robinson

“Life on the road is a strange reality. Traveling with a group of 50 professionals from city to city, sometimes having to check the itinerary to see where you are, the next concert almost always in the back of your mind, dictating every choice leading up to it. It’s an exercise in adaptation to changes in weather, environment, concert halls, food, language, latitude. Inside the bubble, we were anchored by our welcome rituals: the anointment with essential oils from LC himself, the round sung in Latin every night on the way to the stage, the hour-long sound check before every show - led by Leonard and conducted with discipline and professionalism by all, the friends and family, the before-the-show bonding in the green room, the passes, the protein drinks, the personal immersion in the music. There was a strong sense of family as a result of the music, the time spent together, and the singularity of purpose. There was the sheer majestic beauty of so many of the places we went, and the heartfelt words from fans after the show, evidence that we had all made contact with something greater than ourselves.

The concerts were transcendent. For many, it was a profound and spiritual experience. This was not surprising, given that it was a detailed snapshot of Leonard Cohen’s life’s work. Being part of something so meticulously put together, and delivered with such heart and commitment, was a privilege not lost on any of us....”

--Sharon Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These Are the STAR WARS Books You're Looking For

So did you hear that there's a new Star Wars movie on the way? Chances are you know someone who's a little excited about it, if you're not excited about it enough yourself (soccer droids notwithstanding). If you can't wait till the A.D. 2015 premiere, a pair of titles released this fall will delight even the most fanatical devotees. Star Wars Costumes presents the original costumes of episodes IV, V, and VI, as well as previously unreleased sketches and photos (watch the book trailer and see this PDF for sample pages), while Star Wars Art: Posters collects artwork from all six Star Wars films, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and limited-edition prints.

Enjoy the forward to Star Wars Art: Posters and these sample images from the book.


Star Wars Art: PostersFOREWORD TO STAR WARS ART: POSTERS

by Drew Struzan

Something new and exciting entered our world with the release of Star Wars in 1977. Star Wars moved the world. It changed not only movies, but also how we view ourselves, our world, our future, our language, our fantasies, our dreams, and, yes, our art. It gave us catchphrases, such as “May the Force be with you,” “Let the Wookiee win,” “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” and (the ultimate) “Use the Force, Luke.”

For me, Star Wars was not only a grand subject to paint; it also brought me into association with George Lucas. It was the turning point in my career. I went from relative obscurity to being a real part of a phenomenon. At the time, films generally enjoyed an opening-weekend release, saw a short run of a week or so, and were gone. But Star Wars kept drawing crowds. The interest did not wane for months. As a result, Lucasfilm decided to refresh the look of its marketing with a new poster.

Here’s where I came in—well, not exactly.

Charles White III was commissioned to create this new poster. He was not, however, a portrait artist. Charlie had seen my work and decided to call me in as a collaborator. I painted the portraits, while he painted the hardware. Lucasfilm liked the artwork, but there was not enough space left open for the “billing block” (credits). Necessity being the mother of invention, we decided to enlarge the dimensions of the art to increase the open space and give the work an early-twentieth-century, wild-posted circus-style look. Charlie made the edges of the painting appear torn and aged. I painted a portrait of Obi-Wan that was layered “under” the edge. So it came about that it took the two of us to paint what would come to be known as the “Circus” poster for its throwback style. The poster also became the favorite of the Master, George Lucas, whom I still had not met.

It was not until 1991 that I finally encountered the Star Wars originator. At the time, I was working on the cover of his filmography The Creative Impulse. I had just finished the poster for Steven Spielberg’s movie Hook, which had recently wrapped, and the production department was throwing a huge party. The entire parking lot of Sony Pictures was covered with three giant tents and was loaded with bands, restaurants, arcade games, cookie carts, and all manner of distractions. It seemed as if everyone who was any¬one in Hollywood had been invited.

My wife and I, being pretty much out of our element, stood far to the back, watching the parade of stars pass by. Standing on the opposite side of the parade was another lone figure taking in the hoopla. My wife, Dylan, thought she recognized him from the portrait I was painting and urged me to go introduce myself. Reluctantly, I waded toward him through the crowd. “Hi, I’m Drew,” I said at the top of my lungs. “Hi, I’m George,” he replied at full volume, barely audible. That was all we could hear through the din. Smiling, I fought my way back to my wife. “Yup, it is George,” I said. My excitement was palpable.

Later we ran into some friends who screamed, “You’ll never guess who was just here, excited that he had finally met Drew Struzan.” So there you have it. We had met at last, and from that day forward we have spoken and collaborated on numerous occasions. Two quiet guys. Pleased to know and be known by each other.

How can I think about or recall Star Wars without thinking of George? Star Wars is George. His mind, imagination, drive, creativity, heart, and soul are best understood by knowing his work. He is a good man, always loyal and supportive. My grand blessing in life has been the opportunity to be a part of the Star Wars “family” and to have been known by this good fellow, George Lucas.

Skip to December 1997.

It is the holiday season. The phone rings. George is on the line. He says something to the effect that he is releasing Special Editions of the three Star Wars movies. He asks me to create one work of art for the poster. Am I astonished? Uh, well, yes. “I’d be honored,” I say. Well, maybe I didn’t say it just that way, but that’s what I felt—and then I stuck my presumptuous foot in my mouth: “Hold on... You have a grand opportunity here to do a triptych, three posters that will work together as one.” He says, “Good idea. How do you see it?”

I began to talk off the top of my head, describing what I imagined. As I recall, six designers from Lucasfilm were listening in on the conversation. They began sketching as I was explaining. Then they sent a fax that asked, “Something like these?” Yes. Good. OK. And from there, “it” began.

Good design is simple and to the point, not rendered or flourished. The movie renders the idea. My job is to summarize and simplify a film’s essence. I was given one week each to design, draw, and paint these three posters for three different films. Normally, this process takes at least a month per poster and involves comprehensive drawings that are subject to criticism, changes, and approvals even before the work goes to finish. Then the labor of love—brush to canvas. This was different.

The first piece had to be done by Christmas. The second piece was completed by New Year’s. The third piece, a week into the New Year. No holidays. No weekends. Little rest for a month. Add to that the fact that I was not able to paint the images side-by-side to match and balance them. As I finished one painting, it was delivered immediately to Lucasfilm. I had to work from memory to complete the next in the series. This is the life of an illustrator. Everything is always a big rush. Everything is always a deadline. The posters all hit their openings on schedule.

Voilà! And then there were three. I could finally rest. And then, a few years later, there were six. And all along the way, dozens of book covers, post¬age stamps, and special projects—thirty-five years’ worth of association with Star Wars.

When you look at my Star Wars works, you see my take on George’s creation. When I begin a project, I look for the thing that drove the creator to make his sacrifice. People spend years of their time and power trying to bring these worlds to fruition. For my part, I think hard on their expression. I feel my way through their heart and soul and try to capture that in a single image.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that we think we are beings of reason and that reason is our power, but we have to admit the heart is stronger than the mind. Our hearts are at the center of our power. We can be more than what we are if we just let the Force flow within us so that we are present in every waking hour. All you have to do is choose.

George’s vision has lasted nearly forty years. Star Wars is preparing to go for another round, offering a new generation of artists an opportunity to express their creative insight. I count it as an honor to have been granted the autonomy to circulate in the Star Wars orbit by its creator, to bring my talents to bear on this grand vision. I am not alone. This book is a testimony to the adage that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Though I write of my experiences in the Star Wars universe, I know that all the artists represented in this volume are stars in the fantastic universe of George Lucas. I believe their experiences are all much the same as mine. Enjoy their art, their hearts, and their dreams, and get carried away with me in their wonder and visions.

God bless you my friend, George Lucas. Thirty-seven years a blessing and counting.

“May the Force be with you.”

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

(C) 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. And TM. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization

The Art of Science: Gifts from Outer, Inner Space

So, are you an innie or an outtie? That is, are you fascinated by the wonders of earth, or is it outer space that churns your imagination? Either way, several new books will have you (or possibly a hard-to-shop-for giftee) covered.

Inner space first. For seven years, Susan Middleton explored the Pacific Ocean on a mission to photograph marine invertebrates, using techniques of her own devising to capture the shapes, textures, and colors of these otherworldly creatures, which make up 98% of known ocean species. The result is simply stunning: Spineless is a gorgeous fusion of art and natural history, combining over 250 images and descriptions with short, illuminating essays describing the breadth and variety of these animals' existences.

For a microcosmic view of the world, Theodore Gray's Molecules: The Elements and Architecture of Everything --his follow-up to the popular The Elements--explodes the building blocks of the universe. Through the marriage of his edifying, engaging text and Nick Mann's crisp, vivid photographs, ordinary materials are broken down into their core constituents, becoming seemingly alien architectures. It's an ideal gift for chemists (or just curious people) of all ages.

Speaking of the universe. For those who spend more time gazing heavenward, Michael Benson's Cosmigraphics is a different sort of fusion from Middleton's: science, art, and history. Benson embarked on his own exploration of science libraries and other collections, seeking out unique maps and illustrations demonstrating a thousand years of humankind's fascination with (and ever-deepening understanding of) the universe and its phenomena.

Enjoy these images from Spineless, Molecules, and Cosmigraphics. Click the images for larger versions, which will open in a new browser window.

 

Images from Spineless by Susan Middleton

Spineless Spineless Spineless
Spineless Spineless Spineless
Spineless Spineless Spineless

 

 

Images from Molecules by by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann

Molecules Molecules Molecules
Molecules Molecules Molecules
Molecules Molecules Molecules

 

Images from Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson

Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics
Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics
Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics

 

The Books

Spineless Molecules Cosmigraphics

Little Humans, Big Humanity

Little HumansBrandon Stanton is a big human. Aside from being just a literally big dude, he's big in spirit: genuinely friendly, enthusiastic, empathetic, and interested in people. All these  characteristics made his Humans of New York blog and subsequent book both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's 30 People Under 30 Changing the World.

This fall, he followed up with Little Humans, 40 pages of his favorite portraits of his younger subjects--both from the blog and previously unseen--that will delight the littlest readers and shutterbugs.

Brandon stopped by our room at Book Expo America to talk about the book, his approach to street photography, and his one essential tip for taking great pictures of kids. And true to his good nature, he was totally cool when the Secret Service shunted us into a stairwell to make way for an appearance by Hillary Clinton next door. 

UPDATE: OMG. Watch the video of the little humans reading Little Humans at the end of this post.

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor: The Slightly Voyeuristic Photographs of Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris ViewsAdmit it: There's a little bit of voyeur in everybody.

For photographer Gail Albert Halaban, there might be a little bit more. In 2012, she published Out My Window, a collection of images that peered into the apartments--and the lives--of her fellow New Yorkers; although staged, her photographs presented intense, personal depictions of city dwellers and the tension between private life and urban existence. They're also beautiful documents of the high-density architecture of the the City That Never Sleeps.

Paris Views takes the project across the Atlantic to the City of Light. Using the same techniques, Halaban has created another volume of photographs demanding compulsive scrutiny. Some of the buildings may be older, but people are fascinating wherever you go.

Enjoy these images from Paris Views, a comment on the work from Halaban herself, and short video on the book below. For closer examination, click through for larger versions of the photographs.

 


Gail Albert Halaban on Photographing Her Neighbors

I like to look into my neighbors’ windows. At first, I know it sounds kind of creepy.

Many people may even think it is illegal, but when you see my photographs of Paris, you will see that I am a friendly window watcher.

In 2009 I made a series of photographs in NYC (published in a book called Out My Window) , and this book is a continuation of that series but now set in Paris.

The work is inspired by the sleepless nights I had as a young mother. I held my baby at the window in the middle of the night searching the windows for connection to break the solitude.

I am not the only one who looks into windows. As Baudelaire tells us in his poem “Windows”:What we can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting that what we can perceive taking place behind the pane of window-glass. In that pit, in that blackness or brightness, life is being lived, life is suffering, life is dreaming.

For me the windows are fragile borders between the familiar and unknown. They are cinematic stages where intimate domestic scenes unfold. The urban experience so often thought to breed loneliness is the focus of my work, to share my realization that even alone we never need to be lonely.

I photograph from one residence to another with the consent of both parties. The process of making the photographs connects neighbor to neighbor creating community against the loneliness and overpowering scale of the city. Though the photographs initially seem voyeuristic in approach they are really about my desire to connect with my subjects and their desire to connect with their neighbors.

The city demands that we trade off privacy and loneliness for community that once joined surrounds us always.

This book will inspire you to connect with your neighbors.

 


Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views

Gail Albert Halaban, Rue de Belleville, 20th arrondissement, Paris, from Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views (Aperture, 2014)

 

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views

Gail Albert Halaban, Rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th arrondissement, Paris, from Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views (Aperture, 2014)

 

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views

Gail Albert Halaban, Rue de Douai, 9th arrondissement, Paris, from Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views (Aperture, 2014)

 

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views

Gail Albert Halaban, Villa Santos-Dumont, 15th arrondissement, Paris, from Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views (Aperture, 2014)

 

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views

Gail Albert Halaban, Quai Anatole-France, 7th arrondissement, Paris, from Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views (Aperture, 2014)

 

All photographs © Gail Albert Halaban, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

 

Gail Albert Halaban - Paris Views from Boaz Halaban on Vimeo.

Post-Photography: Re-Imagining Reality

ALTTEXTFrom Stalin's vanishing commisars to airbrushed supermodels, photographers have been manipulating our perception of of reality--and even our ability to discern the actual from the virtual--as long as they've been taking pictures. The internet and rapidly evolving digital tools have blown the game wide open, offering techniques to anyone with a few bucks and a wild imagination, i.e. artists. With Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera, Robert Shore has collected dozens of examples of photographs that  challenge our notions of what photography is, and what it can be. As it turns out, not everything has already been done.

Enjoy these images and descriptions from the book.

 

 

 

 


Post-Photography (image 1)

p. 27 Joachim Schmid
There’s an argument that there are already quite enough images in the world – why create more? Joachim Schmid quickly gave up using a camera in his art practice and instead took to adopting photographic ‘orphans’ found on market stalls or simply discarded in the street. The red of the actress’s lips and nails was added by the previous owner of the magazine containing these Hollywood stills.

Post-Photography (image 2)

p. 70 (top) Clement Valla
The highways and bridges appear to be melting in Clement Valla’s internet-sourced images. Valla doesn’t manipulate his material: a glitch in combining different information models results in these uncanny effects. The web is full of such eerie, unintentional distortions – you just have to know where to look.

Post-Photography (image 3)

p. 127 Christy Lee Rogers
Hawaiian photographer Christy Lee Rogers takes her camera under water to create beautifully lit and richly sensual tableaux that are reminiscent of the greatest canvases of the Baroque era.

Post-Photography (image 4)

p. 139 (top) Scarlett Hooft Graafland
There’s almost nothing you can’t do, no image you can’t conjure, with a little help from Photoshop nowadays. But you can’t fake the kind of surreal shots that Dutch artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland travels the globe to secure.

Post-Photography (image 5)

p. 176 Jorma Puranen
It’s one of the basic tenets of ‘good’ photography that you must at all costs avoid surface glare. However, Finnish master Jorma Puranen expertly exploits the emotional and temporal resonance of reflected light by creating a kind of veil between the historical painted portrait and the viewer in this hauting image.

Post-Photography (image 6)

p. 251 Richard Mosse
Traditional photojournalism is reinventing itself in the work of the likes of Richard Mosse, who used an infrared Kodak film stock to create an unforgettable portrait of war-torn Congo.

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

2014 National Book Award Winners

At an event in Manhattan yesterday evening, the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2014 National Book Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Young People's Literature, and Poetry. Phil Klay was awarded the highly anticipated prize in fiction for his collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Redeployment, while Evan Osnos's Age of Ambition was deemed the top nonfiction book of the year.

All finalists receive $1,000, and five panelists in each of the four categories decide who takes home the top prizes of $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. Since 1950, winners have included William Faulkner, Annie Proulx, Ralph Ellison, Katherine Anne Porter, Philip Roth, Alice Walker, John Updike, and Lillian Hellman, to name but a few. Congratulations to all of the 2014 finalists and winners.

See more National Book Award finalists and previous winners.

 

2014 National Book Award Winners:

TITLE

FICTION: Redeployment by Phil Klay

"Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned."

 
TITLE

NONFICTION: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

"Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail."

 
TITLE

Young People's Literature: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

"Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement."

 
TITLE

POETRY: Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck

"You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently."

 

"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

Martin Short: Humble Comedy Legend

I Must Say by Martin ShortYou might know him best as Ed Grimley, the grimacing, high-trousered pop-culture nerd of the rhinoceros-worthy quiff. Or maybe Jiminy Glick, the Hollywood "insider" who packs both obsequiousness and obliviousness into a single awkward, inapproptiate package. Over his long career, Martin Short has created countless iconic characters, filling many roles across a career spanning SCTV, Saturday Night Live, and dozens of films.

His new autobiography, I Must Say, is the story of his remarkable life--hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring. From his showbiz-obsessed childhood to Toronto's Second City improv troupe to Hollywood success as a "humble comedy legend," we meet his friends, loves, and co-conspirators: Gilda Radner, Mel Brooks, Nora Ephron, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Shaffer, David Letterman all make appearances, as do Steve Martin and Tom Hanks (in fact, their pre-colonoscopy ritual is not to be missed). We also learn how his upbeat sensibilities helped him cope with the losses of his older brother and both parents within months of each other, and more recently, his wife of thirty years. 

Short stopped by our room at Book Expo America in May to talk about the book, inspiration for writing it, and a few of his most memorable characters.

 

Spooktacular Spooktacular! 13 Picks from the Master of Cult Cinema

Cult Horror MoviesWho's up for some scary movies? I am. So is Danny Peary.

Peary established his bona fides as an expert in weird cinema with his Cult Movies series from the early 80s: three volumes packed with wisdom on off-beat movies of all stripes. The requirements for "cult" status were specific; all of Peary's subjects "elicited a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases,” a rubric which made The Maltese Falcon, Emmanuelle, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show all fair game for his always enlightening and entertaining essays. The books were cult hits on their own--I skimmed them between customers during my Tower Books counter shifts in the early 90s, along with other books of ill-repute, such as The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. Tower, remember, was open late.

Though they have been lately out of print, Workman Publishing is now releasing Peary's essays from Cult Movies as a series of genre-specific ebooks. Horror and Sci-Fi are first, with Midnight Movies (November 11) and Crime (December 2) following later this year.

So who better than to ask for recommendations on spooky Halloween films? Here are Peary's picks for chill-seekers of all tolerances.

 


My Lucky Thirteen for Halloween, by Danny Peary

I was eight in 1957, when Shock Theater presented Universal Monster Movies on television, and only Psycho, three years later, ever scared me more than seeing Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and all the sequels about brides, sons, daughters, and nephews, for the first time. Indeed, if I could have programmed a Halloween movie marathon back then to scare youngsters and adults in 2014, I would have picked those classics. But today, when such ferocious fare as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story are popular television shows, coming up with thirteen horror films that will please the I've-seen-everything-and-more crowd is a tricky proposition. Today's viewers get bored even before the blood on the screen dries, so my simple objective to keep everyone's eyes riveted on the screen even while frustrated trick-or-treaters bang on their doors. My tack is to mix past and present films, the violent and the humorous, the familiar and the unexpected. I have included five* films I write about in my new eBook Cult Horror Movies, and eight others. All good movies, none too barbaric. My Lucky Thirteen for Halloween:

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) wants to implant Costello's puny brain into the head of the Frankenstein Monster. Before the kids are sent to bed with their candy-induced tummy aches, allow them one movie treat, showing them one of the best comedy-horror films ever made. You'll like it, too. It's a great introduction to Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Universal's iconic monsters are scary, there's some nifty special effects and makeup, and the fab comedy team that saved the studio from bankruptcy is in top form.

The Night of the Demon* (1957): An American doctor (Dana Andrews) arrives in London to help a professor discredit a devil cult--only to discover that the professor is dead and that real witchcraft may have been responsible. This smart, tense, and sadly neglected British horror gem was scripted by frequent Hitchcock writer Charles Bennett (The 39 Steps) and directed by Val Lewton alum Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People). It has a fabulously sinister and erudite Hitchcockian villain (Niall MacGinnis) and scares us as Lewton did, with darkness and shadows, sudden sounds, and wild animals. As in Lewton films, science/reason and the supernatural have equal validity. The filmmakers were upset that the studio insisted on showing "the Demon." but it's such a spectacular creature that I'm glad it did.

The Scream of Fear (1961): A young woman in a wheelchair returns home to meet her stepmother for the first time and suspects that her missing father isn't away on a trip but has been murdered--in fact, she keeps seeing his corpse when no one else is around. This spooky sleeper from Hammer Studios features the lovely, ill-fated Susan Strasberg and the British studio's star Christopher Lee not playing a vampire or even a bad guy for a change. Numerous later movies have had similar plot twists, but the direction by Seth Holt (The Nanny) is imaginative and there are a few times when you'll be on the edge of your seat.

Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead* (1968): A disparate group of scared people barricade themselves in a farmhouse as cannibalistic zombies terrorize the countryside. Although heavily influenced by Hitchcock's The Birds and Psycho, George A. Romero's cult classic was innovative and influential, anticipating and paving the way for today's zombie craze. Many films have since passed it on the gross-out meter, but it holds up very well. And it deserves credit for being, along with Romero's equally satirical The Crazies, the first horror film in which we Americans do battle not with aliens but each other.

Halloween* (1978): After fifteen years in an asylum for stabbing his sister to death, Michael Meyers escapes and returns home to Haddonfield, Illinois, dons a mask, and stalks three teenage girls on Halloween night. John Carpenter's seminal work would be the obvious choice for a Halloween marathon strictly because of its title, but these many years later it remains the scariest and most shrewdly directed of the teenager-in-peril slasher movies. In her debut, Jamie Lee Curtis deservedly became the cinema's "Scream Queen" as the attentive virginal babysitter Michael pursues, with her distracted-by-sex friends becoming collateral damage. A masked lunatic is needed in a Halloween movie festival, and I pick Michael over Jason of the Friday the 13th series because he's not just out to kill but, having missed his childhood, seems to be playing a very mischievous kids' game. Am I right in thinking that babysitters have charged outlandish fees since this movie came out?

An American Werewolf in London* (1981): After two likable young Americans are attacked and bitten by a werewolf while backpacking at night on the British moors, one (David Naughton) turns into a werewolf when there is a full moon and the other (Griffin Dunne) becomes a deteriorating corpse-ghost who tries to persuade his alive friend to commit suicide before he kills. From the opening moment when John Fogarty belts out "Bad Moon Rising" on the soundtrack, this is a wild ride, the best werewolf movie after 1941's The Wolf Man. There are great transformation scenes and Oscar-winning makeup by Rick Baker, and director John Landis deftly mixes terrifying moments (including the attack on the moors) with laugh-out-loud humor. Cult favorite Jenny Agutter is Naughton's love interest, and it's notable that Landis includes sex and violence but keeps them separate.

ScreamScream (1996): A year after her mother's murder, Sydney Prescott (Neve Cambell) realizes she could become the latest teen victim of whoever is driving up the body count in the small town of Woodsboro. Directed by Wes Craven and knowingly scripted by Kevin Williamson, this blockbuster revitalized the horror genre in the late 1990s by both paying tribute to the slasher film and revamping it. It's a sure-fire crowd pleaser because of its fun characters, super cast--Campbell, Courtney Cox and Dave Arquette would return for the sequels--hip dialogue, and horrific murders that do justice to their strong buildups. Remember: if you get a Halloween night call from someone asking What's your favorite scary movie, hang up.

Ringu (1998)/The Ring (2002): Teenagers die a week after watching a mysterious VHS video, spurring a female journalist to--big mistake--take a look. On Halloween, if you can't get hold of the Japanese original on dvd--don't accept a VHS copy!--watch the American version directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Naomi Watts, because it's just as unnerving. We grew up being scared of what lurked in our closets or underneath our beds, but that didn't prepare us to see what crawls out of the TV in this story. Be ready for chills to run along your spine.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006): In Spain in 1944, young Ofelia and her pregnant mother move into her vicious fascist stepfather's large house, and, while he hunts rebels in the area, she ventures into an ancient labyrinth, where she interacts with various mythical creatures and puts her life at risk. Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro's enchanting and frightening parable draws a connection between real-life and fantasy horror. In this unique film, Sergi Lopez is one of the cinema's vilest villains, and Ivan Baquera is as captivating a heroine as Alice. If she were in a Lewis Carroll story, Ofelia might get in trouble, but in a Del Toro film she might not even survive.

The HostThe Host (2006): An enormous, amphibious monster kills many civilians along the Han River and abducts a man's daughter, prompting him to search for her. The biggest box-office film in South Korean history barely was noticed in America because super-talented Bong Joon-ho (2014's Snowpiercer) was still an unknown director here. There's too much silly humor, but the scenes with the monster are thrilling and the monster is stupendous. The rescue scenes in the sewer recall the terrific fifties giant-ant movie, Them!

Paranormal Activity (2007): A couple feels a demonic presence in their new home, so they turn on cameras to record any unusual activity while they sleep. I think the creepy first film of a highly successful franchise ranks second to The Blair Witch Project among "found-footage" horror films, but it is perhaps the most efficient good horror movie ever made, providing a tremendous number chills for the few dollars spent. And Katie Featherston's totally credible performance is Oscar-worthy. It's such a nerve-wracking movie that maybe you'd better wake up those kids you sent to bed earlier because you won't want to watch it alone, particularly the shocking ending!

Let The Right One In (2008): A nice, lonely, bullied twelve-year-old boy befriends the mysterious new girl in his apartment complex, and soon realizes she's a vampire and responsible for a series of deaths in town. Just when we thought every vampire movie had been made Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's novel horror film turned up. It may be the most violent film ever with kids in the lead roles. The killings are gruesome, the atmosphere is icy, but this is a touching, tender, and very romantic art film. If you can't make out subtitles after watching twelve other films, the 2010 American version, Let Me In, with Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz is almost as good.

Go Forward, Move Ahead: Mark Mothersbaugh's Guide to Modern Living

Myopia by Mark MothersbaughIf you're familiar with Mark Mothersbaugh, it's probably through his day job. In the early 70s, Mothersbaugh--along with fellow Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis--founded DEVO, and began their four-plus-decade broadcast of uncategorizable, avant-garde sound and vision, of hazmat-besuited robot Jaggers singing songs of dark futures and opt-in de-evolution. "Freedom of choice/Is what you got/Freedom from choice/Is what you want."

As it turns out, DEVO was only one facet of a complex project. Before music, Mothersbaugh occupied his time and indulged his obsessions as a visual artist, creating a huge collection of paintings, photographs, and prints--including over 30,000 postcards--that represent an often surreal, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating take on modern existence. 

Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art has amassed many of these pieces--curated by Adam Lerner--for Mothersbaugh's first comprehensive exhibition. If you can't make it to Colorado or any of the five other cities currently scheduled to host the collection, Princeton Architectural Press has published Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia as a companion volume, with a set of postcards (Collected Facts and Lies) coming December 2. With the show's opening set for October 30, we asked Mothersbaugh a few questions about his influences as a visual artist, his work, and its relationship to DEVO's music. The publisher has also offered several images from the book, presented below.

 


Most people know you for your music than for your visual art, but which came first, and when? Is one the natural extension of the other? Has your art influenced your music or vice versa? Is it all part of the same project?

I first dreamt I would be an artist when I was seven years old. I took keyboard lessons when I was seven, but didn't want to write and perform music until I was twelve. Early on I was impressed with sound and vision artists and mixed media artists. Then in college cross-platform artists like Andy Warhol, Dadaists and the Futurists inspired me. All the different artists who believed that the idea came first, and then the technique followed. With DEVO, Jerry Casale, Bob #1 and Bob #2 and I thought we were sound and vision artists. We designed costumes, stage shows and choreography, films, all related artwork besides the music. We created interstitial music for our films and live shows.

Three artists or works—in any medium-- that influence your current work the most. Or a lot.

I could list a lot of people, but Chester Gould, Beto Gomez and Alan Vega are the first three I thought of. I also am especially interested in artists who channel other dimensions, gods, spirits, ghosts, energy, or whatever is out there to interact with. Maybe I'm mostly inspired by the "other 90%" of our brains... not just the 10% that has to babysit the rest of our meat computer, but the part we know very little about.

You’ve created over 30,000 postcards, which implies a kind of compulsion or commitment. What urges you to create art? What’s your routine?

The content and goal of my drawing has changed and goes in and out of specific thoughts, stream of consciousness and anger venting, positing questions and just illuminating a thought or feeling. The content has changed since I acquired two children and started showing the newer drawings to others. Thirty years ago, I was the only viewer, and I made them exclusively for me, occasionally picking select images for use with DEVO or to just print them larger for art shows. I draw every day between sun up and sun up. It is kind of compulsive at this point, there is a relief in just finishing at least one drawing, poem, whatever in every 24 hour cycle. I am an insomniac, and drawing gives me something to do during those hours.

Myopia by Mark MothersbaughYou’ve never exhibited your visual work before the Denver exhibit, at least in a large scale. Did you ever intend to? How does this feel?

I have had smaller shows in museums and colleges before, but the bulk of my public viewing over the last 15 years has been in smaller indie galleries. In that arena, I have done upwards of 125 gallery shows around the world in a 13 year period. The Denver show is by far and away the largest museum-size show I have ever put together. Jeffrey Deitch got me interested in bigger, more center-stage art exhibits, but Adam Lerner is my intellectual saint. Not one to shy away from controversy, he both suggested and has co-created this project. I feel pretty darn good about the whole thing.

Has the acceleration of technology and its pervasiveness—especially communications technology—influenced your work and themes? Is it insidious or liberating?

This is the best time in the history of man to be an artist of any stripe. Technology has made so many disciplines transparent and available to young artists these days. It has democratized previously out-priced art mediums including music and video, to name just a few. I think technology gives us so many more options and is very inclusive. I only wish I had the energy of an eighteen year old.

There are so many conflicts inherent in your work: man/ machine, thinker/consumer, high-brow/low-brow (maybe what Adam Lerner has called the “DEVO aesthetic”). Do you start with these ideas, or do they naturally emerge as a project develops? Are you delivering messages or observations?

I think in some ways I'm doing the same thing I did when Jerry and Bob and I started DEVO. Delivering observations regarding the condition of man in the world these days.

 

Images from Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia:

 
Untitled postcard
 
 
DEVO changed their look for each of their major albums. The plastic wigs they wear in this photograph were part of the image they created for their 1981 album New Traditionalists.
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Untitled, February 7, 1984
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Untitled (Bury Me…), February 21, 2013
 
 
Roli polis
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Wipe!, 2004-7
 
 
Anita’s First Boyfriend, 2004
 
 
This Enigma Records promotional image features the best of DEVO’s many outrageous costumes and showcases the elements of their performance influenced by the 1913 “futurist opera” Victory Over the Sun.
 
 
Mechanical Aviary, 2014
 

The Only Way Out of the Apocalypse Is Through

Station ElevenPublished earlier this year, Claire Cameron's novel, The Bear, opens on a very dark night: On a family camping trip, a savage attack from 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, ending their world as they know it. It's a thoughtful take on change and fear, and the strength we find within ourselves to propel us through.

Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven--recently announced as a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award in fiction--deals with the end of the world on a much larger scale: A doomsday virus that wipes out 99% of humanity. We thought it would be interesting if the two authors spoke about the new book and the inspiration behind it.


Claire Cameron Interviews Emily St. John Mandel, Author of Station Eleven

Station Eleven, the latest novel by Emily St. John Mandel, has been called, "an ambitious and addictive novel" by The Guardian and "equal parts page-turner and poem" by Entertainment Weekly. Author Ann Patchett said, "I wouldn’t have put it down for anything." 

The novel jumps back and forth between a post-apocalyptic world and the start of a flu epidemic that had wiped out 99% of the world's population twenty years earlier. This sounds like a dark story, and it is. But, as with the best tragedies, St. John Mandel manages to show beauty and hope in the gloom. It is also expertly crafted. She weaves time and develops characters in a non-linear and convincing way. It's a riveting read.

As a writer, the moment I finished the novel I wanted to know more about how it was written. I interviewed St. John Mandel by email. --Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron: What was the first spark of inspiration for Station Eleven?

Emily St. John Mandel: I wanted to write something quite different from my previous three novels, all of which were generally categorized as literary noir. I'm happy with the way they turned out, but I didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a crime writer. To be clear, I have a great deal of respect for crime writers and crime fiction. It's just that I don't want to be pigeon-holed as anything, and I love film and theatre, so I thought it would be interesting to write about the life of an actor.

At the same time, I wanted to write a love letter to this extraordinary world in which we find ourselves, this place where rooms fill with electric light at the flick of a switch, water comes out of faucets, and it's possible to cross the Atlantic in an afternoon. One way to write about the modern world is to contemplate its absence, which is why I decided to set parts of the new novel in a post-apocalyptic era. I think of the book as a love letter in the form of a requiem.

CC: How did you imagine the disaster specifically, the flu epidemic, in your novel?

ESJM: I imagined an extremely aggressive strain of swine flu—with some variant in the viral RNA resulting in a freakishly quick incubation period—making the jump from pigs to humans on a farm in the Republic of Georgia. In early drafts, the initial outbreak was quite specific and detailed: a teenaged girl who lives on the farm kisses her boyfriend, who's traveling to Moscow that afternoon. The following day, passengers on a plane from Moscow to Toronto begin to feel ill a few hours into the flight. This is also true of passengers in other airplanes bound for other continents, and in trains and buses bound for other countries. I imagined a mortality rate of 99%.

The Bear

The Bear

by Claire Cameron

CC: I was struck by a character who watched an airplane take off, “Why, in his life of frequent travel, had he never recognized the beauty of flight?” Do we live in an era of beauty?

ESJM: We do, although it's also of course an era of ugliness and horror. We live in a world filled with spectacular things that we too often take for granted, and flight is an easy example of that. I don't always enjoy flying. It's often a horribly uncomfortable experience. But the fact that it's possible is incredible, isn't it? I've been fielding accusations of being easily impressed since childhood, but in my defense, a lot of things are impressive.

CC: Your novel shows that even in the face of disaster humans can be good to each other, which is a different world than is depicted in many post-apocalyptic stories. Are you hopeful about human kind?

ESJM: Generally, yes. My suspicion is that the overwhelming majority of people on the world really just want to go about their business, raise their families, and live peacefully. But with regard to this book, the key here is the timing. Post-apocalyptic stories are often set in a period of chaos and mayhem immediately following a societal collapse. I assume that such a period would occur, but I was more interested in writing about what might come after that, fifteen or twenty years after the collapse. I assume that the entire world wouldn't be consumed by mayhem forever, because mayhem isn't a sustainable way of life over the long term.

CC: Though you now live in New York, you grew up in Canada. Did this influence your novel?

ESJM: Yes. Delano Island in the book is an ever-so-thinly fictionalized version of the island where I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia, and the book is partly set in Toronto, where I went to school.

CC: Station Eleven is a literary novel, but it also uses some of conventions of genre – suspense, science fiction and elements of horror. How does genre influence your writing? Do you think about genre or conventions when you write?

ESJM: I've always just set out to write literary fiction, with the strongest possible narrative drive. My ideal of the perfect book is Donna Tartt's The Secret History; it's beautifully written, but it's also a page-turner.

I try not to think about genre while I'm writing, because the whole question of genre seems completely arbitrary and amorphous to me. If a literary novel is set partly in the future, does that somehow make it less "literary" than a novel set in present-day suburbia? If a literary novel has a crime in it, is it automatically crime fiction? Ultimately, these labels have more to do with marketing than with the content of the work itself. Case in point: my first three novels were generally marketed as literary fiction in North America, but I'm a thriller writer in France. Same books, different marketing strategies.

CC: The traveling symphony has a line from Star Trek on the side of their caravan: "Because survival is insufficient." How important is art to our lives? Does it change how or why we live?

ESJM: I think it's very important, and it does change the way we live. Survival is never enough for us, and we find examples of this in the most desperate places on earth: people play musical instruments in refugee camps and put on plays in war zones.

 

See more books by Claire Cameron and read more--including the proper way to split firewood--at www.claire-cameron.com.

10 Songs: Greil Marcus and the Culture of Surprise

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten SongsIf rock & roll has achieved institution status, Greil Marcus certainly qualifies as one of its pillars. As one of the most influential critics of rock music--a small and vital, club, to be sure--he has made a long, distinctive career by elevating an often disparaged form and placing it firmly (rightly) within the hierarchy of great art. In addition to his writing for the likes of Rolling Stone (he was its first reviews editor), Creem, and The Village Voice, Marcus has authored many books, often dealing with the idea that rock & roll is both a accelerant and amplifier of cultural memes, Narcissus and his reflection in one. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, originally published in 1975, traced rock music's roots, evolution, and impacts--intuitive and otherwise--through the lives and careers of six epochal artists; TIME appointed it one of the 20th century's most influential nonfiction books. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century launches itself from the Sex Pistols and the punk scene of the 70s into an examination of heretics, rioters, and iconoclasts spanning Western civilization, across both time and geography. There are many more, occasionally academic, always incisive, and definitely fun.

In his latest--The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs--Marcus rambles the back roads of rock history to present  short biographies of 10 songs spanning the entire breadth of rock & roll, from doo-wop to post-punk, demonstrating how rock's impulse to combine (and recombine) its influences made each possible and entirely original. Two pieces of advice for readers: 1.) Unless your record collection is as expansive as Marcus's, have YouTube cued up so you can listen while you learn. 2.) Set "Shake Some Action" to repeat.

We asked Marcus for 10 songs that shaped his own rock & roll experience. Here's what he said.

 


 

Greil Marcus: 10 Songs

Rock & roll for me has always been a culture of surprise. When it’s at its best you never know what’s coming and you can’t wait to find out what it is—when all the music seems to be one great answer record, with everyone, performers, listenters, the radio, a club, even the background music in a supermarket or the foreground music in a restaurant part of the same conversation. That happens best on Quentin Tarantino soundtrack albums, which aren’t references to his movies but almost counter-works—from the neo-surf music in Reservoir Dogs to the creamy, sleazy pop on the two Kill Bill albums to Django Unchained, which is probably the best. But it can happen anywhere.

In the order they occurred to me:

Outkast, “Hey Ya!” (2003). As Lou Reed once said, when you first heard this song you felt as if you could listen to it forever—“And then you kind of had to.” But endless airplay didn’t wear the song out, it only revealed equally endless layers of play, emotion, and a life being lived: the cool comedy of the verses always falling into what seemed like the unalloyed joy of the chorus. And it was in the chorus that, after weeks, months, never, provided its own drama: the way the first “Hey ya” was nothing but a smile, the way the second pulled away from the first, with a dying fall of regret, loss, uncertainty, doubt. There is a whole history of American music in this song—minstrelsy, wild and fast L.A. doo-wop (the Jewels’ “Hearts of Stone,” the Hollywood Flames’ “Buzz Buzz Buzz”), Bob Dylan’s carnival sound (“I Want You”), Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”—and also prophecy: a sound and a feeling the Roots will probably always be looking for.

Bo Diddley, “Say Man” (1959). Even by 1959, after Little Richard, after “The Book of Love,” I didn’t understand how anything this ridiculous—so ridiculous it was, somehow, pure anarchy, an epistemological proof that neither government nor society did, in fact, exist—was allowed on the public air. Now, long after learning that this was just a Top 40 version of the dozens, of The Signifying Monkey, of a harmless African-American insult ritual going back to forever, I still don’t.

Greil Marcus

Rolling Stones, “Gimmie Shelter” (1969). It’s been on the radio for 45 years and hasn’t lost anything. It’s kept up the with times, or the times are still chasing it. And I knew that would be the story from the first time I heard it.

Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley” (1958). For me, proof that music—the language everyone was speaking, that everyone though was sufficient to say whatever needed to be said—could change overnight. The day before, whatever was on the radio sounded just right. The day after, it sounded old, tired, and fake. The same thing happened with “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Hockey “Song Away” (2009). I heard it sitting outside a shoe store in Minneapolis. I caught a few words, maybe the title phrase, but mostly a smile that I couldn’t get out of my head. Thanks to the internet, I could track it down and play it a dozen times in a row. I still couldn’t get it out of my head. Whenever I think about it, I still can’t. That’s what rock & roll is for.

 

Portrait by Rich Black based on the original photo by Thierry Arditti

Weekend Reading: Spies, Diggers, Some Murderers, and a Prig

As Chris mentioned last week, spring has been beautiful in Seattle, but the weather is starting to get dark out here. Apparently, so are we. Here's what each of us will be taking a look at over the weekend. 

Happy Friday!

 

Lives in Ruins Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson

Sara Nelson: No, not an analysis of my carton-filled, not-unpacked-but-newly-renovated apartment – author Marilyn Johnson is talking REAL ruins, like the kinds archaeologists study. Johnson wrote the absolutely delightful The Dead Beat, about obituary writers, and then she showed the world how interesting and forward thinking (it’s true!) librarians can be, in This Book is Overdue! Johnson, a longtime magazine writer and editor, has a buoyant voice and slightly loopy sensibility, and I can just see her schmoozing up some archeological prospectors and getting to the bottom of what drives them to dig. (November 14)

 
Astoria

Astoria by Peter Stark

Jon Foro: I'm taking the opportunity to catch up with something that came out ALL THE WAY BACK IN MARCH. I'm not sure why I passed over this then, but Peter Stark's account of the mad rush to open the international fur trade--just a few years after Lewis & Clark--is spellbinding for the audacity of John Jacob Astor's ambition and his mission's predictable disasters. It even has a villainous prig named Captain Thorn. Count me in.

Also reading:

 
Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Seira Wilson: This weekend I’m going to do something that’s as rare as hens teeth--I’m reading a book that came out years ago. I’m in the “I loved it” camp for Gone Girl and have heard that Sharp Objects is also fantastic. So I’m taking Sharp Objects, out in paperback in 2007, to a Florida beach for some welcome vacation. A reporter of questionable mental stability who returns to her hometown and estranged family to cover two murders. Psychological twists ensue. I can’t wait.

Other books I’m taking with me to finish or start::

 
A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Erin Kodicek: A Map of Betrayal by National Book Award-winning Ha Jin is an unconventional spy novel (our international man of mystery’s name is…Gary). In it, a daughter discovers her deceased father’s double life and does a bit of investigating of her own. What comes to light is heartbreaking, and dangerous. (Available November 4)

 

 
My Heart Is a Drunken Compass

My Heart Is a Drunken Compass by Domingo Martinez

Neal Thompson: What I like about Domingo Martinez’s voice is how it cuts right through that line between telling a story that's both awful and awfully funny. His previous book, The Boy Kings of Texas, was a National Book Award finalist in 2012. His new one continues the story of Martinez’s messy Texas family and his own messy attempts to distance himself and create a new life for himself in Seattle. Of course, trouble is always just a late-night phone call away. (Available November 18)

Also reading:

 
The Forgers

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

Chris Schluep: I’ve got a long flight this weekend, so I’m looking forward to getting lost in a dark murder mystery set against the backdrop of rare books. (Available November 4)

Also reading:

Still reading:

Chasing Paper: The Debt Collection Underground

Bad Paper“Creditors have better memories than debtors.” --Benjamin Franklin

Everyone knows about collections agencies, but how they actually operate is much more interesting than you probably think. Falling somewhere between Glengarry Glen Ross and Mean Streets, Jake Halpern's Bad Paper introduces us to an economy spanning many shades of gray. Halpern's book tracks the descent of "paper" (spreadsheets containing the information of millions of debtors and their debts) as it's sold for pennies on the dollar by banks and credit companies and passed through a network of collectors. Files are often bought and sold multiple times, each transaction stripping away the best remaining prospects as collectors wring paper dry through all manners of persuasion and coercion. Along the way, Halpern encounters first-hand the game's players, from the financiers at the top of the pyramid to mid-level "brokers" and the ground-level phone-jockeys; these are all hard men within their contexts, as one tale of a Tarantino-grade stand-off over stolen information attests. This book is unexpected, and unexpectedly fun.

Read these short biographies of some of the Bad Paper's most interesting players, and check out our Q&A with Halpern below. Bad Paper is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month.

 


 Bad Paper's Cast of Characters by Author Jake Halpern

Aaron Siegel: Private Equity Fund Founder

“All of a sudden, you’re swimming in waters you didn’t really want to swim in – never would have conceived you’d be swimming in.” -- Aaron Siegel

Aaron is a banker who made a big gamble. In 2008, he purchased well over a billion dollars worth of unpaid credit card accounts for pennies on the dollar. What he bought, essentially, were just spreadsheets with names, addresses, phone numbers, and balances of debtors. All went well until some of those accounts were stolen and vanished into the debt underworld. Luckily Aaron had someone to call – a fixer named Branson Wilson who knew just what to do. (See below.)

Brandon Wilson: Debt Broker & Fixer

“I will come back down here, I will take your server, I will burn your agency to the ground, I will come to your house and burn it down, and then I will come back here and burn this store down. Understand?” – Brandon Wilson

Brandon Wilson is a former armed robber who now runs his own collection agency and debt brokerage firm. He also serves as Aaron’s emissary to the collections industry’s many unsavory precincts.

Shafeeq: Debt Collector & Security Specialist

“I can go and shoot a person—an intruder, at your house—and it would be a lot easier to do something like that with the security contract in place. Whereas if I’m just showing up at your house, and I shoot somebody, now there’s a lot more, you know, paperwork.” – Shafeeq

Shafeeq runs one of the collection agencies that Aaron hires to “work” his paper. He is a devout Muslim, who tries to avoid charging interest whenever possible. Shafeeq also runs his own security firm and is licensed to carry a firearm.

Jimmy: Debt Collector from the East Side of Buffalo

“Back when he ran up into my office with that gun, I’ll tell you what, it felt good. My adrenaline was pumping. I wanted to shoot him.” -- Jimmy

After going to jail, Jimmy turned his back on crime and reinvented himself as a debt collector. Even so, sometimes his past catches up with him.

Larry: A Debt Broker Based in Buffalo

“Certain things you don’t want to know, because once you know something, then you become an accessory to it or responsible—so it’s just better not to know, because most of the dealings on the level that we’re on, they’re not legitimate.” – Larry

Larry worked as a debt broker for years and is now trying to make a living as an artist.

Theresa: Debtor

“There are a thousand ways to rip off desperate people. The more desperate you are, and the less you have, the easier it is.” - Theresa

Theresa is a former Marine who fell hopelessly into debt when her marriage ended badly. She paid $2,700 to collectors who claimed to own her debt and then never heard from them again.

 


 

Bad Paper author Jake HalpernQuestions and Answers with Jake Halpern

 

On the surface, debt collection doesn’t seem like the most scintillating topic. How did you get involved with this story?

I know this sounds odd, but this book owes it existence to two people: my mother and Brad Pitt. It began with my mom. She started getting calls from a debt collector over a debt that she didn’t even owe. So I started investigating the debt collections industry and discovered that my hometown – Buffalo, N.Y. – was one of the epicenters. I ended up writing a profile about a collector, from Buffalo, for The New Yorker. After the article comes out, I get a call from Brad Pitt’s producer, telling me that he wants to turn the story into a TV series with HBO. I was shocked. But he was serious. So I end up traveling back to Buffalo, with the screenwriter, and we stay at my parents' house. It was surreal. The screenwriter is staying up on the third floor and my dad and his wife are making meals for him in the kitchen. Anyway, my job on this trip is to line up some interesting people for the screenwriter to meet, so his script feels authentic. Back when I was doing my story for The New Yorker, no one wanted to talk with me. Now, all of a sudden, I am doing a project with “Brad,” and people are tripping over themselves to talk. One night, the screenwriter and I go out to dinner with a banker and a former armed robber who had gone into business with one another. They tell me an incredible tale. They purchased $1.5 billion worth of bad debt for pennies on the dollar. Their aim was to make a fortune. All goes well on this unlikely venture until some of the debt is stolen and the former armed robber must delve into an underworld where debt is bought and sold on street corners. This quest ends in a showdown with guns in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y. Needless to say, I was hooked on their story.

What was the most unexpected turn the story took?

There were a bunch of unexpected turns. My favorite involved a character named Shafeeq, who was a smart, charming, gun-toting, black, Muslim polygamist. He is a rather minor character in my story, actually, but he played a pivotal role in one dramatic scene – the showdown with guns – and so I really wanted his perspective. I tried to get him to talk for well over two years, but he refused. Then one day he tells me that he will talk, if I travel to Buffalo and meet him at his mosque on the East Side of Buffalo. So I go. I show up at the mosque at sundown and, almost immediately, this very aggressive panhandler accosts me. Then out of the shadows of the mosque steps Shafeeq. He is ENORMOUS, roughly six and a half feet tall, and weighing more than 300 pounds. The panhandler skedaddles and Shafeeq leads me into his mosque, which is situated in a beautiful old church. We talk for the next three hours. During this time, he give me one of my favorite quotes from the book, which is an impassioned defense of polygamy. He claims that, by being a good father figure to many children in the African American community in Buffalo, he is a powerful force for good, because is modeling good behavior on an exponential level. “You’re Xeroxing righteousness,” he tells me. It’s one of those little, kind of random moments that is just so bizarre, fascinating, and memorable.

The book is filled with rough-around-the-edge characters doing some shady things. Was there any moment you felt uncomfortable, or even at risk?

Just once. I was in the car with a former cocaine dealer, named Jimmy, who had reinvented himself as debt collector. We were on the East Side of Buffalo, which is poor and crime-ridden. Suddenly, Jimmy slams on the brakes, bolts out of the car, and leaves me sitting there for the better part of ten minutes. When he finally returns to the car, Jimmy tells me that he had just spotted a guy he knew, who had recently pulled a gun on him. Jimmy had apparently chased after him but not found him. At that moment, Jimmy was shaking with rage. I just sat there in the car with him, saying nothing while he regained his composure. It was a tense few minutes.

You describe some of the collectors engaging in some dubious practices in order to collect on debt, especially where it comes to taking advantage of debtors’ ignorance (with regard to collection law and their rights) and collector tactics such as bullying. Do you expect reform in this business, and do you hope your book plays a part?

I do hope things change. In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be issuing new rules that will – hopefully – change the way the consumer debt is bought, sold, and collected upon. And yes, I am hopeful that my book may help shed some small amount of light on the seedier corners of the industry. But ultimately, the ability of the CFPB to clean up this industry will also hinge on policing. Currently it is policing about 175 of the biggest agencies in the business. Yet according to recent industry estimates, there are well over 9,000 collection businesses in America. That’s a lot of ground to cover. So I am hopeful, but I am also doubtful that the industry will be fixed overnight.

Name three of your most influential writers or books.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann. Grann is a superb nonfiction writer. The number of amazing stories he finds, on a regular basis, is mind-blowing.

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover. Conover is simply the best reporter I have ever encountered.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. This is a swashbuckling adventure tale involving Vikings. I love Vikings.

Next project, or current obsession?

I am weirdly interest in jailbird lawyers. I like the idea that there are a few prisoners who have studied the law, become erudite, and are helping work on cases. I am currently scouting out a story involving one of them.

In addition to your nonfiction, you co-authored a couple of well-received young adult novels. How’s that different? Do you plan more?

This is true. The biggest difference here – other than the fact that I write about haunted woods and iceberg fortresses – is that I co-write the books with my friend Peter Kujawinski. We wrote the first book in our Dormia series in 2009. Around that time, I was living on Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico, which remains one of the most remote and sparsely settled regions in the continental United States. From my desk, in our tiny ranch house, I watched prairie dogs frolic and tumbleweed blow across the street. Meanwhile, my co-author – Peter – was serving as an American diplomat in Paris. His environs could not have been more radically different. Peter, known simply as “Kujo” by friends and family alike, inhabited a sprawling three-bedroom penthouse with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower. What united us, however, is that we were both twelve-year-olds at heart and wanted to make up imaginary worlds involving magical cities nestled in the mountains. So we started writing the Dormia series. And we just signed a two-book deal with Putnam / Penguin to start a new series. The first book, Nightfall, should be out in about a year.

Hollywood, Behind the Camera

Hollywood Frame by FrameThe following is excerpted from Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997.

Introduction, by Author Karina Longworth

In the pre-digital era, contact sheets offered a quick, visual summary of a photo shoot, and photographers, editors, and even subjects would make marks directly on the printed contact sheet pages to signify which images should be printed (and which absolutely shouldn't), how they should be cropped, and whether or not more shooting was needed. Once a frame of film was exposed, it couldn't be deleted, so contact sheets always include "mistakes" -- moments which the photographer, or the subject, may not want anyone to see. The contact sheets in Hollywood Frame by Frame are interesting for all of these reasons, and more. Most movie stars are given approval over which images of themselves are used for publicity purposes, and from the 1950s through the 1970s, the key way stars approved images was by making marks on contact sheets. Publicity departments, too, would use contact sheets to select the right, and wrong, ways to present the images representing a specific film or star. In allowing a glimpse into which images of stars like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and James Dean commercially useful and which weren't, these contact sheets tell stories about how star personas are invented, while also exposing aspects of the individual celebrities' personalities which the entire industry of celebrity myth-making usually tries to squeeze out. 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Paramount/The Kobal Collection/Howell Conant)
 
Bus Stop
Bus Stop (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
 
Giant
Giant (© Sid Avery/mptvimages.com)
 
Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (Photo by Peter Stackpole/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Once Upon a Time in the West
Once Upon a Time in the West (Photo by Bill Ray/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Raging Bull
Raging Bull (Christine Loss)
 
Rear Window
Rear Window (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
 

Weekend Reading: Dames, Games, and Ghosts

As we put the finishing touches on our October reading and our Best of the Books of the Month lists, our attention turns to November as we try to get a jump on reading for the next round. (This good feeling of "being ahead" lasts about a week.) Here are a few things that we'll be taking a look at over the weekend. Happy Friday!

 

A Sudden Light

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Neal Thompson: Set almost entirely inside a crumbling mansion outside Seattle, this is a sprawling, big-hearted story about a boy, his woe-is-me father, his creepy-hot aunt, his demented grandfather, and the ghosts of his timber family’s past. For fans of Stein’s mega-bestseller, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and it’s four-legged hero/narrator, Enzo, this might not be the follow up you were expecting. It's got ghosts, not dogs. But in my view, that’s a good thing, and a bold move by Stein not to write Enzo II. (Available September 30)

Also reading:

 
Fields of Blood

Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

Chris Schluep: I first read her book, Islam, about a decade ago. I followed that up with A History of God, which as much as any other source has informed my understanding of religion. In her new book, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and violence through history—but her thesis is not what you might expect. She does not see a deep correlation between the two. That’s counter to what it seems most modern people think, which makes this book very interesting reading. She’s a fine, patient writer and super-smart. (Available October 28)

Also reading:

 
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Seira Wilson: A suspenseful true crime story about 1920s Hollywood and the birth of the motion picture industry as we know it. In the high stakes world of production, distribution, and stardom, friends become enemies and rivalries run deep. Mann charts the trajectory of the times through the previously unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, and a man with his own deeply buried secrets. Would-be starlets, intoxicating fame, drugs, scandal, and power plays make for a fascinating nonfiction page-turner. (Available October 14)

Also reading:

 
The Game of Our Lives

The Game of Our Lives by David Goldblatt

Jon Foro: Although it gets a bit tiresome to hear soccer described as "the world's game," that distinction offers the unique opportunity to compare playing styles and leagues across the globe in an almost anthropological way ; i.e. by placing each in context of their economy and culture, they become lenses through which we can examine the larger character and history of a country itself. Goldblatt's book takes a look at England's wildly successful Premier League and its Thatcher-era resurrection from the ashes of hooliganism and tragedy. Also, I just love soccer a lot. (Available November 11)

Also reading:

 

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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