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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

Omnivoracious Makes Time's Best Blog List

Time_blog_collageTime has announced the 2012 edition of their list of the 25 best blogs, and we’re delighted to announce that Omnivoracious has made the list. Time's Matt Peckham calls Omnivoracious "wonderfully agnostic when it comes to genres, covering everything from sci-fi to self-help, the popular to the obscure, prose to pictorial works and beyond. But it’s also a place where book lovers get down in the trenches and talk shop with (or about) some of the very best authors in the business."

Highlighting blogs "that aren’t yet household names," the list runs the gamut from NPR's eclectic All Songs Considered and the inspirational DIY ethos of design*sponge to the good-natured schadenfreude of Awkward Family Photos and the literary festishism of Bookshelf Porn (a favorite of ours, as well). Make sure to check out all 25.

We at Omnivoracious are thrilled and humbled to receive this honor, and we offer our heartfelt thank yous to Matt Peckham, Time, and all the writers who make the blog a smorgasbord for book lovers of all tastes.

--the Omnivoracious contributors

 



Amazon Asks Steven Rinella, Author of "Meat Eater"

Steven Rinella eats meat. Since his days as a squirrel-chasing eight-year-old in Twin Lake, Michigan, Rinella has hunted his own meat--and he eats all kinds. His new book, Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter, recounts his experiences as a hunter of game both large and small; it's a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of killing for food, the influence of hunting on the American experience, and the value of bringing ourselves closer to the meat we eat.

Rinella, also the star of two real-life adventure shows and the author of American Buffalo (an Amazon Best Books of the Year selection for 2008), talks to us about some of the stranger things he's eaten, his collections of skulls and "completely odorless" animal scat, his favorite piece of fan mail, and more.

 

Describe Meat Eater in 10 words. Steven-Rinella_Katie-Finch_

Adventure, food, ethics, history, family, violence, wilderness, killing with respect.

 What was your scariest experience in the wild? 

I used to think of grizzly bear run-ins as my scariest moments in the wild. I started having these encounters in 1997 when I moved from Michigan to Montana, and they increased significantly once I started hunting in Alaska around the year 2000. Back then, I would count it as a potentially hazardous situation even if I had a grizzly stand up and look at me from a hundred yards away. But over time I realized that the threat of grizzlies lives mostly in our heads. There’s no doubt that they could kill you flat out, without any trouble, but usually they’re tripping over themselves trying to get away from you. So now I'm much more relaxed about it. Just last week, I was hunting caribou on the North Slope of Alaska's Brooks Range. There was a moment when I realized that my cell phone had been destroyed by a leaking bottle of DEET insect repellent, and I was cursing about that just when I saw this grizzly heading into my camp and toward a cache of freshly butchered caribou meat.  Rather than going after the bear, I continued to lament about my phone until a friend urged me to focus on what he considered to be the larger problem. So what do I worry about now that I'm done worrying about bears? Falling off mountains, rock slides, and avalanches. I had a scare hunting mountain goats on some icy cliff faces last fall, and that’s my number one worry nowadays.   

Meat_eaterWhat’s the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?

I've eaten many strange things. A few that come to mind immediately are beaver tail, domestic dog, electric eel, porcupine, muskrat, the contents of a buffalo's gall bladder, the raw fat plucked from behind the eyeball of a caribou. But I always remind myself that these things are only strange in the context of contemporary American society. For other people, in other times, these items were staples and even delicacies. So to call them weird is to approach the subject from a somewhat limited perspective. 

 What's on your nightstand?

Right now I'm reading Lone Survivors: How We Came To Be the Only Humans on Earth, by the paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer. As an avid hunter, I'm an anthropology buff. After all, the vast bulk of human history is one big long hunting story. Stringer's book is full of interesting tidbits. Like how Neanderthal skeletons often demonstrate injuries that seem consistent with modern day rodeo riders, such as lesions and fractures around the head and neck. But rather than riding large animals, Neanderthals were highly carnivorous humans who likely practiced a "confrontational" style of hunting that resulted in getting kicked, trampled and rolled upon by large critters. He also talks about evidence of hunting weapons, such as spears, going back some 300,000 to 400,000 years in Europe. Reading about the deep antiquity of my fellow hunters sets my head reeling. It inspires me, and helps me to answer that ever-present question: why do I hunt?

What do you collect?

I keep around a good number of animal skulls, mostly from things I've killed and eaten. Right now, on my walls, I have skulls from a buffalo, a Dall sheep, and a mule deer. On my mantelpiece I have skulls from two bears, a javelina, an antelope, plus a skull from a whitetail deer my dad killed in the 1960s and an elk vertebra that I found in Idaho. The white tail deer skull still has my father's steel arrowhead rattling around in the brain cavity. He was aiming at the deer’s heart but it swung its head around and then dropped dead instantly. The elk vertebra has an arrowhead buried into it, just a quarter-inch from the spinal column. The bone had actually healed around the arrowhead, demonstrating that the elk survived the wound. It's a totem that reminds me of the very fine line that separates success and failure in hunting. I used to also collect animal scat. I had a black bear dropping that was formed around another bear's toe and claw. And a coyote dropping that was formed around a deer's hoof. I also had these beautiful grizzly bear scats showing all the different things they eat. One was comprised of pine nut husks; one was comprised of elk hair and bone; one was comprised of grasses and sedges; one was mostly insect carapaces. I'd dry them out and lacquer them and keep them in a glass-topped display case. Visitors would always be blown away by how cool they were. Completely odorless, too. Now that collection is if being curated by my brother Matt, who lives in Miles City, Montana. He takes good care of it, and adds and subtracts specimens as he sees fit.

What's the best piece of fan mail you ever received?

After publishing my second book, I got the following email from an elderly man. This guy has the most natural and beautiful style, and I believe that it’s completely accidental. He’s one of those rare people who can just jot down thoughts in a way that’s lyrical and poetic and compelling. That is, I don’t think he labored over this email. I think it just rolled out like this. To me, it reads like a letter you might get from Cormac McCarthy's great-grandfather: 

Just finished your book American Buffalo and was carried back in memory some 70-plus years to my youth in Montana. My uncle Buddy and Aunt Alice owned a small ranch in eastern Montana and a neighbor was a retired pioneer by the name of Dan Bowman. Dan knew the country like you know the back of your hand and once took me to place much as you describe in your book where the Indians stampeded the buffalo off a ledge into a pit some 6-8 feet deep. The Indians would then slaughter them at their leisure. This pit was full of bones and for many years I had a buffalo skull with a hole dead center between the eyes. My father got rid of it when I left for the army at age 22. I have no idea why he did so since he could not see it having lost both hands and eyes in WW1. That pit is probably still there untouched although I doubt that I would ever be able to locate it again.”

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I wish I didn’t need so much damn sleep. If I go a few nights without getting eight hours, I start to fall apart. And since hunting means a lot of early mornings, I’m often thinking about going to bed before it even gets dark out. It’s embarrassing. All those lost hours!

Hawks vs. Doves: Schneier on Security

Liars_and_OutliersIf there is such thing as the Godfather of Security, Bruce Schneier is it. He is the author of the seminal treatise on computer security and crypto technique, Applied Cryptography, which Wired described as "the book the National Security Agency wanted never to be published." In the years since Applied's original 1994 release, Schneier has extended his range and ambition, writing the layman's guide to digital warfare, Secrets and Lies, while Beyond Fear: Thinking About Security in an Uncertain World discussed security's role and efficacy in the post 9/11 world. 

With his latest book, Liars and Outliers, Schneier goes delves even deeper into the philosophy of security, considering the nature of trust--its necessity, as well as its limits. Employing game theory in an examination of human behavior, Schneier explains why there will always be populations of "defectors," and why we will always need measures to mitigate the damage they cause.

Mr. Schneier recently paid a visit to the Amazon campus to talk about his new book, and he stayed behind for a few more questions about the NSA and the Red Queen Effect. See more of Bruce Schneier's books here, and check out his blog for interesting commentary on the TSA and giant squid, among other topics.

 

That's Some Catch, That Catch-22

Heller_22Happy birthday to Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, on what would have been his 89th. If you haven't read it (and you should), the novel follows Yossarian, a bombardier named stationed in Italy during World War II, who is as determined to escape the war alive as the military bureaucracy seems determined to kill him. Much of it reads like Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first?" with mortal consequences. Like this:

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to."

There you go. As a comment on war's ability to bend reason and reality, Catch-22 has proved remarkably durable, spawing a line of absurdist horror stories. So, in honor of Heller's birdthday and the 51st anniversary of Catch-22's publication, here are five descendants of Heller's mad, mad, mad, mad masterpiece:

 

 Billy_LynnBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Our top pick for the Best Books of May, Ben Fountain's debut novel is "The Catch-22 of the Iraq war." Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn and What It Is Like to Go to War, says so right on the jacket, and he would know. In his review, Amazon's Neal Thompson says Billy Lynn "manages a sly feat: giving us a maddening and believable cast of characters who make us feel what it must be like to go to war--and return."

 

 

Continue reading "That's Some Catch, That Catch-22" »

Who's in Charge Here?

Every_nation

With a a PhD in political science from Stanford University, Ian Bremmer knows a thing or two about international events and their effects on markets. His latest book, Every Nation for Itself, looks at the current state of the world and global leadership--or lack thereof--offering valuable insight for navigating the the rough and unpredictable seas of the 21st century.

Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World: Release 2.0, speaks to Bremmer about the "G-Zero" world and what uncertainty means to the United States and its future.

Fareed Zakaria: What is a G-Zero world, and how did we get here?

Ian Bremmer: The G-Zero is a world without effective, consistent leadership. It’s not the G7 world where Western industrialized powers set the agenda. It’s not a G20 world where developed and developing states find some way to work together on tough transnational problems. It’s a world where no can be counted either to pay the piper or call the tune.

I love the story in your book The Post American World, about Colin Powell making peace between Spain and Morocco over a disputed island in time to go swimming with his grandkids. I included a story in Every Nation for Itself about how Lyndon Johnson diverted about 20 percent of America’s wheat crop in 1965 to help India feed its people during a drought. The leadership capacity that these two stories illustrate isn’t what it used to be, and Europe has too many serious problems of its own to try to take up the slack. At the same time, we can’t expect emerging powers like China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, or the wealthy Gulf monarchies to fill this vacuum because their governments have neither the bandwidth nor the desire to accept the risks and burdens that come with much greater international leadership.

Post_americanBut Every Nation for Itself is not about the shifting balance of international power. In fact, we can’t know what the longer-term future holds for America, Europe, China or any of these other countries. There are good reasons to bet on U.S. resilience, but that will depend on the quality of American leadership in years to come. The rest will continue to rise, but some of them will have more staying power than others.

We can forecast with great confidence, however, that the world has entered a period of transition, one in which global leadership will be in short supply. Every Nation for Itself is about that historic shift and the tremendous challenges and opportunities it will create--for the global economy, for relations between the world’s most powerful governments, and for the world’s ability to cope with a variety of what we might call “problems without borders.”

Continue reading "Who's in Charge Here?" »

We Are Talking About This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still with me?

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

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

Comments? Let 'em rip.

Continue reading "We Are Talking About This." »

"The Day in Its Color": Pictures of a Lost Continent

Day_in_Its_ColorIn 1938, erstwhile businessman Charles Cushman snapped an image of the Golden Gate Bridge using the relatively new Kodachrome color film. It would be the first of over 14,000 frames of indelible Americana--people, urban scenes, and landscapes--that he would capture over a 30-year cross-country odyssey.

Unlike Walker Evans or Henri Cartier-Bresson, who chose similar subject matter to wide acclaim, Cushman was by no means considered an artist or professional, for no larger reason than that nobody knew who he was. Besides, color photogaphy had something of a gauche reputation in the higher-minded circles. Cushman was doing this for himself, and he was so far underground that his collection was only recently "discovered" and archived when he donated his photographs to Indiana University, his alma mater. (See Vivian Maier for another recently celebrated amateur "street photographer.") 

The Day in Its Color (Oxford University Press) serves as a companion piece to the Cushman archives, a collection of over 150 color prints contextualized with commentary on setting, period, and photographic equipment and technique. And it is fascinating, not only for the beautiful frankness of the portraits and street-life shots, but for the way the reproductions of the super-saturated photographs breathe reality into images of a truly vanished world. A shot of a rickety "confectionary cart" in the muddy streets of Chicago (surely a predecessor to Windy City "street cheese") would look pre-industrial if not for the color, while a 1939 portrait of Cushman himself at the rim of the Grand Canyon (dressed for leisure in a suit, fedora, and a remarkably short tie) gives you an idea what Sam Spade might look like on vacation. It's occasionally jarring, like seeing color footage of World War II for the first time.

But beyond the archaic curiousity of the set, Cushman knew what he wanted from his camera, and the best shots speak to an opportunistic readiness to capture the ephemeral moments of a rapidly vanishing culture. Select images from the book, including the ones described above, are available after the jump.

Continue reading ""The Day in Its Color": Pictures of a Lost Continent" »

Jeffrey Zaslow (1958-2012)

Jeffrey_ZaslowJeffrey Zaslow, a longtime writer for the Wall Street Journal and co-author of the 2008 best-seller The Last Lecture (with Randy Pausch), has died at the age of 53. In 2011, he published Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, a collaboration with congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Zaslow died in a car accident in Michigan following an appearance to promote his most recent book, The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters, a nonfiction narrative of a small-town bridal shop.

: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters

Pull On Your Trousers and Press PLAY

For anyone like me who has never been consumed by a video game as an adult--and feels like they might have missed out on an essential 21st century cultural experience--here is Waiting for Godot:

 

 

Bonus game: You are Nick Carraway, fighting your way through mansions teeming with harrowing flappers and butlers in this playable version of Great Gatsby for NES.

Happy Friday!

HODGMAN IN A PILGRIM SUIT. CHASING A TURKEY. AFTER THE JUMP.

Leonardo da Vinci, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Benjamin Franklin. Masters of many pursuits, polymaths, Renaissance Men. Not since Nineteen Eighty-Five David Byrne has one man come close to fulfilling this lofty ideal, but John Hodgman is coming awfully close. Among his accomplishments:

Even beyond that, Hodgman has authored the Complete World Knowledge trilogy, the ultimate reference on mole-men, hobo names, and sundry information aspiring to varying degrees of factuality. The final installment, That Is All, arrives November 1, and will drop new knowledge upon the world, including:

  • "How to Make Your Own Wine in a Toilet, Even If You Are Not in Prison"
  • A new list of 700 "ravenous god-things" prepared to re-enter our dimension in 2012 (you may have already met Chthulu Carl, the Tentacled Hobo)
  • "Ted Danson's Secret"

But all this is just an excuse for a books blog to pass along this post from Bon Appétit, wherein they tease an upcoming interview with "America's Last Pilgrim" with a fabulous ANIMATED GIF--possibly the first one created since 1998, at least by someone over 12 years old.

HODGMAN IN A PILGRIM SUIT. CHASING A TURKEY. AFTER THE JUMP.

Continue reading "HODGMAN IN A PILGRIM SUIT. CHASING A TURKEY. AFTER THE JUMP." »

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