Blogs at Amazon

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

Don't Look Down: Training for the New Alpinism

Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House and Scott Johnston

As a writer for a blog that is somewhat preoccupied with literary fiction and popular nonfiction, it's not often that I have the opportunity (or reason) to go off-topic and talk about a fitness book.

Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, by Steve House and Scott Johnston, is no ordinary fitness book. House is a world-renowned climber and an advocate of the "alpine-style": A fast-and-light, carry-all-your-gear approach that eschews the siege-style encampments and support typical in commercial mountaineering, especially in places such as Mt. Everest. In order to do that ("that" meaning scaling vertical ice walls thousands of feet high with a 20-pound pack on your back), one must be extraordinarily fit. Along with his climbing partner, Vince Anderson, House won the 2005 Piolet d'Or for their ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas, and his previous book, Beyond the Mountain, won the 2009 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Johnston, also a climber, has skied at the international level and coaches several top cross-country skiers.

If you're serious, or semi-serious, about climbing, this is your book. House and Johnston have put together regimens of varying difficulties that are both comprehensive and intense, while also addressing nutrition, mental fitness, and goal-setting. Though the exercises are nominally climbing-specific, they're appropriate for anyone who spends time in the mountains, or anyone looking to shake up their routine.

But even if you don't know a Prusik from a piton, there's a lot here to love. The book contains dozens of full-color high-altitude climbing photographs, as well as 27 essays by accomplished climbers, including Ueli Steck, Mark Twight, and Peter Habeler. To illustrate the unique nature of this book, House and Johnston (along with Patagonia Books) have provided several images, along with two excerpts:

  • "The Alpinist as Athlete": A summary of House and Johnson's philosophy of training's central role in the success of any climber
  • "The North Face of the North Twin": A short essay by House about a time something went sideways at altitude (the full story is included in Beyond the Mountain)

 Training for the New Alpinism is a book Fred Beckey would love.

 Images from the book (click for larger photographs):

Marko Prezelj climbing the short traversing pitch to the ice in the exit cracks of the headwall. North face of the North Twin, Alberta

Justin Merle chucks a lap near Ouray, Colorado

Continue reading "Don't Look Down: Training for the New Alpinism" »

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Gabriel Marquez Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian-born author known for his stories that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality--as well as the lines between tragedy and comedy--has died following a bout with pneumonia. As the author of novels including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, "Gabo" was instrumental in introducing Latin American literature to a worldwide audience, and was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts." García Márquez was 87.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit, Write: Five Things You Didn't Know About John Updike

Updike by Adam Begley It’s often useful to separate artists from their art, to assume that a novel, or an entire body of work, isn’t thinly veiled autobiography*. Updike, Adam Begley’s exhaustive and revealing account of the American master’s life, begs us to reconsider that doctrine. Detailed yet readable, it goes far beyond describing the chronology of this unsurprisingly complex (and often paradoxical) character, layering on the lit crit where John Updike’s real life bled into his novels. Essential for admirers and illuminating for anyone with an interest in literature, Updike already merits consideration as one of the best biographies of 2014. Begley has provided us five tidbits from his research for a glimpse into the Updike known only to aficionados and close associates.

* For this reader, at least, who is seemingly drawn to works by or about questionable characters

Updike is an Amazon Best Books of the Month selection for April, 2014.

 


Five Things You Didn't Know About John Updike

by Adam Begley

 

1. He dreamed of becoming the next Walt Disney. Updike’s first love was cartoons and cartooning. “Have I ever loved a human being,” he once asked himself, “as purely as I loved Mickey Mouse?” His ambition, as a boy, was to become an animator, and only settled on writing when he was in college. Even so, he spent a year after college at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England. All his life he doodled, sometimes extravagantly, and he would often draw his own Christmas cards.

2. He was rejected by Princeton. The brilliant, straight-A student at Shillington High was offered scholarships by Harvard and Cornell—but Princeton turned him down. He decided on Harvard, where the annual tuition in 1950 was $600. He was offered $400 in financial aid for freshman year. His aid package increased over the years—because his grades were consistently excellent—and by the time he graduated, tuition was fully covered. He graduated with highest honors.

John Updike (photo by Irving L. Fisk

3. He never had a literary agent. Updike published more than sixty books in his lifetime, and most of them were reprinted as paperbacks and in various foreign languages. The amount of office work to keep track of rights and permissions for all those editions would have kept an agent busy around the clock. A phenomenally focused and disciplined worker, Updike did it all by himself; it was what he did when he wasn’t writing.

4. He was pen pals with Joyce Carol Oates. When he wasn’t writing for publication, Updike was writing letters—to his editors at Knopf and The New Yorker, to scholars and journalists, to friends, to his mother. But the person he wrote to most frequently was Joyce Carol Oates, a lively, gossipy literary correspondence as voluminous as you would expect from a pair of authors who were at the same time producing at least a book a year, decade after decade.

5. He played poker with the same crew for more than fifty years. They started playing in December 1957, a group organized by the owner of an auto parts store and the local pediatrician. They convened every other Wednesday, for low stakes: nickels and dimes until they made the minimum bet a quarter in 1960. Poker night was a raucous event in the early days, drenched in beer and wreathed in smoke. The camaraderie, and the sense of belonging, was for Updike the principal attraction; he confessed, in fact, to being only a mediocre player: “I am careless, neglecting to count cards, preferring to sit there in a pleasant haze of bewilderment and anticipation.” In 2004 he noted that he’d been playing with more or less the same men for nearly half a century, and that in the meantime he’d “changed houses, church denominations, and wives. My publisher has been sold and resold. Only my children command a longer loyalty than this poker group.” Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that he was far less passionate about poker than he was about golf!

Pürr for Me: Hardcore Cats and Their Softhearted Keepers

Forget wolves, witches, and Ouija boards. Forget demons and devils. Forget bats, beasts, and black sabbaths. Within the dark hearts of metalheads everywhere live... kitties.

For Metal Cats, Alexandra Crockett entered the homes of these morbid angels--musicians, fans, and promoters--to expose the fluffy underbelly of the metal scene, and the result is a kind of heartwarming. And they're not all black cats, either. Not all of them.

A portion of the proceeds from Metal Cats and a series of benefit shows held along the West Coast will go towards one no-kill shelter in each of the four main cities visited.

 

Metal Cats
Metal Cats

Continue reading "Pürr for Me: Hardcore Cats and Their Softhearted Keepers" »

Case Closed? Art, Cannibals, and the Fate of Michael Rockefeller

Savage-Harvest-jacket-omni“I think I can make it.” In 1961, while on an expedition to collect pieces for his father’s Museum of Primitive Art, Michael Rockefeller and his traveling companion were plunged into the warm waters off New Guinea. The billionaire scion tied two empty gas cans to his body for floatation and swam for shore, and by most accounts, he made it. But what happened there, when he encountered members of the Asmat tribe--a culture marked by ritual violence and cannibalism--has been long debated. Did he disappear into the tropical jungles, or was he rendered and eaten by the tribesmen, as many speculated and the Rockefeller family long denied? Award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman has stepped into Rockefeller’s boot prints and Asmat society, interviewing generations of warriors in an exhaustive and engrossing attempt to solve the mystery. The result, Savage Harvest, succeeds not only as a captivating and sensational puzzle, but also as a (seemingly unlikely) modern adventure and a fascinating glimpse of an anachronistic people pulled into the 20th century by the tensions of global politics. So, did he make it? Read our Q&A with Hoffman and decide for yourself.

Learn more about Savage Harvest, an Amazon Best Books of the Month selection for March 2014.

 



What drew you to the mystery of Michael Rockefeller?

I began traveling to remote places at about the same age as Michael.  In my 20s I saw Dead Birds, the film he first worked on, and his story resonated with me and never left me.  Not only his disappearance, but his curiosity and need to go in the first place.  His death took on the quality of myth - Michael disappearing in an alien realm that was difficult to penetrate for us Westerners - an idea echoed by the press accounts of the time.  Wrote a LIFE photographer, after a day of searching for Michael: "they say if a man falls in the mud he cannot get up without help..."  Which I knew not to be true - the Asmat had been rolling in that mud and spreading it on themselves and walking in it and living in it for 40,000 years.  

By the time I began thinking about the story as a possible book project, I had traveled as a reporter to some of the furthest nooks and crannies of the world, and I saw those distant places as real places full of real people with real stories that, with effort, weren't alien at all, but penetrable, untangleable.  And there was enough about Michael's disappearance that I believed there was more to know; I believed it wasn't a myth, but a real person who vanished in a real place and that I might be able to pierce it with patience and persistence.


Savage-Harvest-MRBeardedYour book opens with a horrifying, detailed depiction of what might have happened to Michael Rockefeller in 1961, if he had been killed by cannibals. How did you conduct the research for this?

That description is based on the Dutch priest Gerard Zegwaard’s seminal examination of Asmat head hunting practices, published in the American Anthropologist in 1959.  Zegwaard was the first Westerner to spend any time among the Asmat and he spoke the language and delved deep.  Cannibalism was an offshoot of head hunting, an all-important sacred ritual necessary to keep the world in balance and for restoring life in the community, and it was conducted according to formal charters and prescriptions.  It was not random.  If Michael was killed by the men in Otsjanep, as I argue, what happened would have closely followed standard Asmat ritual practice.   

You write, “If I asked anyone about cannibalism, they would acknowledge it. Sure, we used to eat people, now we don’t. They didn’t want to talk about it.” Given the central roles that vengeance and violence played in Asmat culture, is it possible that cannibalism existed in the 1960s, or even later?

Head hunting and ritual cannibalism were still the rule in Asmat in the early 1960s, when Michael disappeared, and there were scattered reports of it well into the 1970s.  

The Rockefeller family resisted the idea that Michael was murdered, and even traveled to New Guinea, in part to dispel the worst rumors. What were the factors that influenced this resistance?

I can’t speak for Michael’s family, but I think they clung to the idea that he disappeared at sea because the Dutch government never told them otherwise and actively denied what it was in fact investigating, and because, of course, the idea of anything else is pretty horrifying.  And they wished to keep everything private, as well.  

Savage-Harvest-SauerDid you seek assistance from the Rockefeller family for the book? Did they participate at all?

I made various efforts to contact Michael’s twin sister, Mary, which all drew a blank.  We have since made contact, but no one from the family helped in any way.

Rockefeller’s disappearance occurred at the moment Asmat society (and similar cultures) was being exposed to the modern world. What were the factors in play, and was Michael’s fate a consequence of that upheaval, at least in part?

Yes, in every way.  Michael was in the wrong place at the wrong time; he personally was not the target, but he was traveling in a culture under siege, one in which all of their most sacred and meaningful activities, the very things that defined them as human beings, were being suppressed, sometimes violently, by a growing tide of Westerners backed up by modern firearms.  Had the Dutch patrol officer Max Lepre not killed the four most important men in the village of Otsjanep in 1958, Michael would be alive today.  And his murder might have become public knowledge at the time if the governments of the Netherlands, Indonesia and the United States hadn’t been engaged in a geopolitical struggle over the future of western Papua.  

What was the most dangerous or uncertain moment of your own research?

I only felt in danger once when we were in rough, difficult seas crossing the mouth of the Betsj River.  I never feared for my personal safety from the people, but they intimidated me at first and it was not easy physically or emotionally to be among them at first.  They were hostile to questions about Michael Rockefeller and that was difficult.  I had to learn their language and live with them for a month before I came to understand them.  

Are your heroes journalists, anthropologists, or adventurers? Or journalist-anthropologist-adventurers?  Who are they?

Interesting question.  I’d say I admire most those people who can combine adventure with beautiful writing, whether they call themselves anthropologists or journalists or whatever.  People who can capture not just the physical essence of a place, but the complex emotional lives of human beings, themselves included.  People like Wifred Thesiger or Tobias Schneebaum or even George Orwell.

What were the five (or more) books most influential to your own work?

So hard to narrow it to five!  Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons (beautiful story and narrative with simple, precise writing); John Hersey’s Hiroshima (perfect prose with deep reporting); Capote’s In Cold Blood (the edge of the envelope of the line between fact and fiction); for this book in particular I thought often of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down and the way he was able to get inside the heads of the Somalians who attacked the Americans, which I try to do a bit with the Asmat; and last, again for this book, I often thought of lots of great thriller writers in terms of pacing.  It is a complex story, but it’s also a murder mystery and I wanted it to read like one.  

Savage-Harvest-Family

The Quadruple Threat: B.J. Novak

One More Thing"Imagine if George Saunders weren't a genius."

Writer-Producer-Actor-Comedian B.J. Novak stops by the Amazon.com offices to talk about writing, the influence of The Office on his work, and the authors that made the largest impact on his life. Also, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, his debut collection of funny, absurd, and sometimes gloriously strange short stories and vignettes.

Watch to the end of the video to see Novak read Discussion Questions from the book.

 

 

The Best Books About Getting Eaten

Claire CameronClaire Cameron's new 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. The novel, written in the honest and unfiltered voice of the young girl, is a compact, tense survival story (and as wilderness instructor for Outward Bound and Algonquin Park in Ontario, Cameron knows her stuff); but it's also a thoughtful take on change and fear, and the strength we find within ourselves that propels us through. But the bear. The bear looms large.

You know what they say: Write what you know. As it turns out, Cameron is a connoiseur of man vs. beast books. Here she presents her top titles about the ultimate struggle--and,occasionally the ultimate taboo. (And because I am also something of specialist, I couldn't resist adding a few of my own.)


Before I put together this list, I had no idea how many of my favorite books involved getting eaten. As I write about survival and am interested in fundamental questions of human nature, I suppose it makes sense. Hunger is a great motivator.

Hunger also strips you down to the basics. What you are willing to eat is relative to your position in life. It also changes given your situation. I will never forget, after losing my food while in the mountains, how I saw the meaty calves of my companion in a new light.

While the books on this list are varied, some new, some old, many fiction and others full of facts, all deal with one of the most fundamental questions of life: Who gets to eat and who gets eaten?

--Claire Cameron

 

The Grizzly Maze The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Print | Kindle

The story of a father and son who struggle to survive as they walk across a scorched America. Food is scarce and none can grow. Eating, scavenging and the lengths others will go to secure a meal is McCarthy’s way of showing us inside the mouth of desperation.

 

 

 

 The Edible WomanThe Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Print

Atwood’s first novel is about Marian McAlpin who can’t eat, but also becomes convinced that she is being eaten. It is a glimpse of the great author’s earlier work and an interesting snap shot of feminism in 1969 (depressingly modern). You won’t look at cake the same way again.

 

 

The Lord of the Flies Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Print | Kindle

A plane does down and leaves a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted island. From the pigs perspective things are eaten, but I sometimes wonder if what was actually consumed by this book is our ability to see little boys as anything but brutal.

 

 

 

 

 Jaws Jaws by Peter Benchley

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When this was first published in 1974, it was generally accepted that great white sharks ate people by choice. Now we know better, but in the book the shark is the most terrifying thing to humans—a beast that reminds us that we may not be at the top of the food chain after all.

 

 

 

The Orenda The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (released May 2014)

Print | Kindle

Boyden’s ambitious novel, about the tangled relationship between the Iroquois, Huron and Jesuits in the mid-1600s, challenges our assumptions with fully realized characters on all sides. This comes with an unflinching look at violence. Power struggles are called into question through consumption: What if one human eating another was not evil, but rather the ultimate act of reverence? 

 

Moby Dick Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Print | Kindle

In the age where we commit to doorstops like The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate Moby Dick as ‘just the right length’? This is the story of the Nantucket whale hunt when it was booming. While the whalers often worried about cannibals, it’s the sperm whale that becomes hell bent on limbs for lunch.

 

 

In the Heart of the SeaIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Print | Kindle

After re-reading Moby Dick, I was hungry for tales about whaling. One of the best is Philbrick’s book that tells the true story of a whaling ship. The Essex from Nantucket was rammed and sunk by a bull sperm whale in 1820. The story of the surviving men inspired Moby Dick. Cannibalism included.

 

  A Modest ProposalA Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Print | Kindle

A classic work of satire published in 1729, the writer proposes that the poor Irish should address their economic troubles by selling their children as food for the wealthy. Told in a straight and exacting tone, the modern reader can’t help but feel a connection to the 99 percent.

 

 

The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic ExpeditionThe Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander

Print | Kindle

This is the best recount of Shackleton’s journey. After being stranded, Shackleton knows that securing food is the only way to survive. The sled dogs go quickly. While the author found no concrete evidence that the eating of upright mammals took place, the thought lay in the minds and the humor of the men.  

 

White FangWhite Fang by Jack London

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This novel starts in the Yukon with two men and their sled team who are stalked by a pack of starving wolves. Told from the improbable point of view of a wolf-dog, it’s a story about fate, struggle and respect. It will leave you wondering about all the things your dog could be thinking, when only one is certain: She gets hungry. 

 

 

Alive Alive by Piers Paul Read

Print

Many have seen the film adaptation of this novel about a rugby team from Uruguay that survive a plane crash, only to be stranded in the Andes Mountains of Chile. After some of the group start to die, this book becomes about making hard choices about what they will eat. When outside the reaches of civilization, how far will they stray from it to live?

 

 

Life of Pi Life of Pi by Yan Martel

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A Japanese cargo ship, carrying an immigrating family and zoo animals, sinks in a storm. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. In case you haven’t read it I won’t say more, but this novel shows how we tell stories about food and how we get it. These are fundamental to how we justify our sometimes brutal actions.

Read the Book

The Bear

The Bear by Claire Cameron

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Five More Real-Life Man-Eaters

The Grizzly Maze

The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans

Print | Kindle


The Tiger

The Tiger by John Vaillant

Print | Kindle


The Bear

The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey

Print | Kindle


The Man-Eaters of Tsavo

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson

Print | Kindle


Savage Harvest

Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

Print | Kindle

Badluck Way: Wolves and Wide Open Spaces

BadluckJacket“Mine might have been a simple, pretty story, if not for the wolves. In late July, they emerged from the foothills....”

Born in Seattle, Bryce Andrews went to Montana's Sun Ranch, at the edge of Yellowstone, looking for wild country, hard work, and the space to figure out what's next. He found the first two, quickly mastering the difficult and occasionally monotonous work of a ranch hand. Things got interesting, however, when a pack of wolves harrows the herd, picking off heads of cattle, and Andrews is compelled to explore the intersection of his conservation-minded ideals and the economic realities of those who make their living from--and inhabit--the land.

Andrews's memoir, Badluck Way, is a timely, artistic accomplishment. His considered-yet-unforced prose evinces the vastness of this piece of the American West, as well as the pace of a rancher's daily existence, where time seems to settle across the open landscape. He aims high for the traditon of writers such as Stegner and Kittredge, and if he doesn't quite achieve those heights with this book, he may very well with another down the line. And it comes at a time when the debate over delisting wolves as an endangered species (and the ensuing "population management") has stirred the interests and emotons of conservationists and land use advocates alike. Andrews understands the tension and its complexity.

Andrews answers our questions about his experience on the ranch and the new book, an Amazon Editors' pick for January in Biographies & Memoirs.

What was the moment when you decided that you wanted to write this book? Was it a larger (or more difficult) project than you imagined?

I started Badluck Way while wintering alone in a small log house on the Sun Ranch. Back then I didn’t think of it as a book. Pushed indoors by the deep, unyielding cold and long nights, I wrote to make sense of my first year as a ranch hand—particularly the difficult bit with the wolves.

Getting the book done and published took six additional years. Yes, it was absolutely a larger and more difficult project than I expected.

One of the central conflicts in the book revolves around the reintroduction of wolves and the toll they take on the ranch and livestock. How would you justify the intentional presence of predators to a cattleman, whose animals and income are at stake? Or would you at all?

I wouldn’t try to talk a traditional rancher into loving wolves. Life’s too short to spend time barking up that tree. No matter how you slice it, ranchers have been forced to shoulder an inequitable share of the burden of reintroduction, while reaping very few benefits. For that reason, I’d also balk at trying to sell him or her on the essential role that wolves play in a wild ecosystem.

Instead, I’d try to show him how much wolves and other wild creatures mean to millions of people living within and beyond the high and rugged valleys of Southwest Montana. These people—some of them, at least—are the ones who buy his or her beef in supermarkets. Just as importantly, they are the ones who fund and direct the work of conservation groups across the West.

I’d hope that even the most stubborn rancher could dredge up some respect for people who oppose irresponsible development and the wholesale depletion of the West’s resources. Such people—I’d say to our dubious rancher—care as deeply for wolves, bears, and other wild creatures as you do for your herds. And here’s the most important part: these recreationists, hunters, and environmentalists are a rancher’s most stalwart allies in preserving the open landscapes essential to wild animals and livestock.

HayMeadow

Even during your one year at Sun Ranch, you could see development encroaching at the borders and even inside the land. How should preservation and development be balanced, if at all? What is the future of wild lands, and why should we care?

I’m certain of very few things these days, but ranching on the ragged edge of man’s range has taught me this: though a farmer or rancher may make poor choices in his or her stewardship of the land, the consequences of such decisions pale in comparison to the threat of development.

For far too long, our recipe for occupying the West has read as follows: Find a wide-skied paradise and fall in love with it. Chop that beautiful, intact, arid landscape into twenty-acre parcels. Fence these, then pimple the hills and benches with modular homes, trailers, and cookie-cutter starter mansions. Pull wire, lay pipe and cut roads as necessary, until the wild expanses we love are trussed up in a net of utilities. When all is said and done, stand on the front porch after twilight, grouse about the yard lights of the neighbors, and remember better days.

This much seems clear to me: Wolves and cattle can, and do, coexist in many our last remote and wild landscapes. It’s not a bloodless peace, and it likely never will be, but it works. The ranchers press on, the wolves keep breeding, and every new spring offers us a chance to avoid the pitfalls of the past. The fragmentation of a landscape, by development or any other means, brings this process of experimentation to a screeching, final halt.

Places like Montana’s Upper Madison are few and far between. Agriculture, when practiced responsibly, can exist in such valleys without destroying the surrounding wilderness. The same cannot be said of dense human inhabitation. So long as the land stays open and sparsely peopled, we reserve the right to pursue a brighter future.

Levi’s or Wranglers? Explain.

Wranglers are good for work, especially work on horseback, because of the placement of the seams and the tough weave of the denim. Wranglers last twice as long as other jeans. Unfortunately, a solid half of that lifespan is required to break them in and dull their weird, ultramarine hue.

In short: Wranglers for work, Levi’s for everything else.


MovingAHerd

What other gear is essential?

FencingPliersFor the most part, a ranch hand requires a small and relatively simple toolkit. Pliers and a wire stretcher are essential, as are a good shovel and a rock bar. My chainsaw sees considerable use, too. A horse is necessary—a good, calm horse with sound conformation and hooves that offer little trouble. The horse’s color doesn’t matter, but I’ve had good luck with bays. Saddle and rope are essential, too, though the rope comes into play less often than one might imagine. At least once or twice a year, a simple, durable rifle proves indispensible.  

There are other, larger things, too—backhoes, tractors, trucks, ATV’s, trailers and the like—but they generally belong to the ranch, rather than to the ranch hand.

What are the books (or writers) that made you want to become a writer yourself?

From its outset, my desire to write has been nurtured by great teachers, particularly Don Snow of Whitman College and Phil Condon of the University of Montana.

That said, I admire many writers. Here are some, but not all of them, in no particular order. Aldo Leopold, Mark Twain, Gary Snyder, Terry Tempest Williams, Paul Theroux, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Paul Shepard, Richard Hugo, Bruce Chatwin, Loren Eiseley, and Maurice Sendak.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I hope that they take from the book something similar to what I took from the Sun Ranch—a deep appreciation for the work of ranching and an equivalent sympathy for wild animals like the wolf.

What was your scariest wilderness experience?

While crossing alone through a deep and claustrophobic bog, my horse plunged headlong into a sinkhole full of mud, deadfall and standing water. One moment I was riding without a care in the world, and then we were in the mire. The horse thrashed madly to get free, threatening to crush me or lay himself open in the process.

The worst of it was getting out. I had to go ahead of the horse, leaping from one little patch of solid ground to the next, and then tugging at the reins to bring him along. The horse was terrified, and therefore dangerous. As he jumped wide-eyed from hummock to hummock, hurdling downed trees and landing close behind me, we played a high-stakes game of follow the leader.

At best, I stayed half a step in front of him. Once, when I hesitated for a beat too long before bounding out of the way, his hooves clipped down along my heel, missing flesh by fractions of an inch and slicing a wide half-circle of rubber from the back of my boot.

What advice would you give to an aspiring ranch hand?

Work hard. Preserve a gentleness of spirit. Cultivate the quality of gumption. Notice when the light falls beautifully across the land.

SunRanchNorthEnd

 photos courtesy Bryce Andrews

Little Failure: Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book

LittleFailureLife is hard enough. Life may be even harder when when you're born in the Soviet Union, you're skinny and asthmatic, and you move to the United States at age seven, and change your name from Igor to Gary. You struggle to find your place as you shuffle between your old Russian life and your new American expectations, so much so that your mom coins--and liberally applies--a kind of Russian/English portmanteau: Failurchka, or "Little failure." I love you, too, mom.

And it stuck. Little Failure, Shteyngart's new memoir of youth and young manhood, packs the same mix of poignancy, humor, and pathos that infused Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan, the novels that made him one of the most celebrated working portrayers of awkwardness and alienism.

Shteyngart has given us exclusive access to a priceless memento of his life so far: Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book. It's a revealing look at the events that made him into the man--and the writer--we love today.

(Click the pictures to see larger images.)

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Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1 Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1 Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1
Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1 Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1 Gary Shteyngart's Baby Book: Page 1

The Top Five Humans of New York

HONY-OMNIBrandon Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's 30 People Under 30 Changing the World. His book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. It was also our number one pick for the best books of the year in Photography.

Here are Stanton's own top five favorite images, accompanied by his own words. Click on the images to see larger versions, and learn more about Humans of New York. It also makes a wonderful gift for any of the humans in your life.

 

 

 


1) Ironically, some of the best quotes come from the people who have the least amount of time to talk to me.  She told me: "I can't talk, because these shadows are changing every second."  Normally I'm a bit downtrodden if I'm unable to interview a subject, but I thought her 'brush-off' was the perfect complement to the photo.  Centralpark-4847

 


2) I always cite this photo as representing the most emotional interaction that I've ever had on the street.  I came across this 100 year old woman just south of Central Park.  She was walking in a rainstorm with a very bright umbrella.  After I took her photo, I got under the umbrella with her, and asked her for one piece of advice.  She said: "I'll tell you what my husband told me when he was dying.  I asked him: 'Mo, how am I supposed to live without you?'  And he told me: 'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'"

Midtown-3881 


3) I was walking through Chelsea one morning when I noticed someone rolling around in the middle of the street.  Of course I started running toward the scene, and when I arrived, I found this drag queen.  Apparently she had been performing a song at a nearby bar, and at the climax of her performance, ran into the street and threw her tips into the air.  I joke that this photo captures more elements of New York than any other I've taken.Edit-8986 

 


4) I love this photo because of the variety of expressions that I managed to capture.  I found these kids in the Lower East Side, making the most of a hot summer day.  Right before I took the photo, one of the kids leaned a little too far forwards and started spilling water from the pool.  This created a variety of different responses from his fellow swimmers.Les-4598 

 


5) The young boy seemed so unwilling to participate in the portrait, that at first it seemed like a photo would be impossible.  But his shyness ended up coming through beautifully, creating a portrait of the relationship between mother and son.IMG_1560

 

 Learn more about Humans of New York.

 

 

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