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About Neal Thompson

Neal is a journalist/author, an amateur photographer/videographer, and a compulsive reader-writer whose rampant tastes veer from narrative non-fiction to literary fiction to long-form journalism to memoir/biography to sports, history, food, music, and so on. He's also a dad/driver/banker/chef to two skateboarding teen sons and an avid skier and runner. Favorite way to kill an hour: a book, a bourbon, and some Miles Davis.

Posts by Neal

Brigid Schulte on Taming the To-Do List: "Put Joy First"

Overwhelmed_book-250x405To do list:

  • Get the snow tires exchanged
  • Renew tabs on Sean’s car; schedule Leo’s practice drives
  • Call the landscaper – what’s with those weeds?
  • Get rid of the damn woodpecker poking a hole in the house at 6am each day
  • Reschedule call with Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed, which you had to cancel four times

I found it fitting that it took a week of texts and emails for Schulte and me to find a window in our respective schedules. When we finally connected, Schulte was charging her dying iPhone at the booth of a Eugene, Oregon burger joint, during a brief pause between book tour duties, her son’s University of Oregon tour, her daughter’s birthday, and visits with her sick father.

But thanks to the three-plus years of research she conducted for Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, she seemed serene and relaxed, even when the burger place began playing Nirvana, threatening threatened to drown out our conversation.

Her calmness was not always so.

Schulte’s exploration of the overworked, under-joyed American lifestyle began with a 2010 Washington Post Magazine story, an assignment she initially resisted. “I didn’t really want to face how I was spending my time,” she said. “I was really afraid of what I’d find … One more thing to feel bad about.”

She also worried that the topic of leisure “seemed silly and fluffy” in contrast to the heftier political coverage of her employer, the Post, and her war correspondent husband, Tom Bowman, NPR's Pentagon reporter. (Years ago, I worked with Bowman at the Baltimore Sun.)

But when the magazine article elicited hundreds and hundreds of emails--from women and men, young and old, sharing the pain, rage, and madness of their overwhelmed, joyless lives--Schulte knew she was onto something. “It blew my mind,” she said. And she realized: “I was not alone.”

Her journalist instincts kicked in and Schulte began to explore the madness of the modern American lifestyle, the misplaced priorities, and the health and quality of life consequences.

She found progressive companies--even the Pentagon--that have exploited the links between employee happiness and productivity, between leisure and professional creativity. She calls for workplace changes that place a higher value on achievement than work hours. Her research taught her how to work smarter, worry less, and prioritize fun--lunch with a friend, an afternoon with the kids, a new hobby, a run or a nap--yet still be more productive.

Schulte has also discovered the value of under-scheduling her kids and protecting family time.

“I do not feel overwhelmed anymore,” she said. “I flipped the to-do list and put joy first, I put the important stuff first.”

Here are Schulte’s “Top 10 Ways to Fight Back Against the Overwhelm”:

  1. PAUSE. Step off the gerbil wheel regularly--if even for a moment, even if you have to schedule it in, to figure out where you are and where you REALLY want to go.
  2. Understand how strong the PRESSURE is to overwork, overparent, overschedule and be busy and overdo and that humans are wired to conform. Our outlandishly unrealistic cultural ideals keep us spinning in “never enough”--that we can never be enough, be good enough, do enough in any sphere.
  3. Change the narrative. Actively support big change--in workplace culture, in cultural attitudes, in laws and policies: redesign work, reimagine traditional gender roles, recapture the value of leisure and play. Make conscious unconscious bias and ambivalence. Dispel worn out myths. Talk.
  4. Banish busyness.
  5. PLAN. DO. REVIEW. As you get clearer about where you are and where you want to go, begin to imagine in those moments of pause how to get from here to there. Experiment. Assess. Try something different. Keep trying.
  6. Set your own PRIORITIES--and then set up your own network of support that lines up with your values--that you WANT to conform to! POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE.
  7. When it comes to the To Do list, do a brain dump to get everything out of your head to clear mental space. Then give yourself PERMISSION not to do any of it. Also give yourself PERMISSION to put joy, fun, play, reflection and idleness or quiet time as top priorities and schedule it in until it becomes routine. You really DON’T have to earn leisure by getting to the end of the To Do list. You never will. So flip the list. Joy first. Do ONE thing a day and do it first. The rest of the day is a win.
  8. Chunk your time. Work in short, intense PULSES of no more than 90 minutes, and take breaks to change the channel. Check digital media at specific times during the day, and use timers so you won’t fall into the rabbit hole. Technology is seductive, lighting up the same structures of the brain that light up in addiction--so find your own system to use it wisely, not let it use you, or abuse you.
  9. Set common standards at home and share the load fairly, even the kids. Remember, as parents, love your kids, accept them for who they are, then get out of their way. That way, everybody has more time to connect--which is what’s really important, not how many instruments they play and how many travel teams they’ve made.
  10. More is not more. Think inverted U curve. Like anything, some activity for kids, some novelty for the brain, some amount of hard work, some time for technology … it’s all good up to a point, but more is not better. Too much, and the benefits begin to diminish. Find your own sweet spot.

How I Wrote It: "All I need is my laptop and a comfy chair" - Alice LaPlante

LaplateWhen a respected plastic surgeon mysteriously dies in a Palo Alto hotel room, a novice police detective immediately suspects foul play--especially after discovering that the man had three wives in three different cities. With that setup, Alice LaPlante's A Circle of Wives explores the mysteries of love and marriage, trust and suspicion. Based on a true story that occurred eight years ago in Standford (where LaPlante teaches creative writing), A Circle of Wives is LaPlante's second novel. (Her first was the bestselling Turn of Mind).

In addition to writing fiction--she has another novel coming out next year, and is working on her fourth--LaPlante also writes non-fiction. She described for me her somewhat unorthodox method of starting each day with some fiction writing, and then flip flopping throughout the day. "I keep my fiction and my nonfiction on the screen, and I move between them," she said.

LaPlante also discussed recently losing her home to a fire. The first thing she reached for when the fire broke out? Her laptop.


Kindle Singles Roundup, Including Colum McCann's First Short Story in a Decade

Longform digital stories seem to be having a prolonged moment, an ongoing honeymoon in the marriage between storytelling and the digitization of the written word. Pioneered by Kindle Singles, Byliner, and The Atavist, and hailed as an antidote to the dying space alloted in newspapers and magazines for short stories, novellas, and longer works of journalism, I've enjoyed watching more and more authors experiment with the form, in both fiction and nonfiction. In the coming months, Omnivoracious will begin featuring occasional roundups of these bite-sized stories. Or is that byte-sized?

Below are five recent notable stories, available in the Singles store, including Gone, a literary thriller from National Book Award winner Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin, Transatlantic). Though McCann got his start writing short stories--he calls them "small imploding universes"--Gone is his first short story in ten years. Scroll down to read a Q&A with McCann and his publisher, Byliner.

Gone Gone, by Colum McCann

A single mother and her 13-year-old adopted son, who is deaf, live alone on the west coast of Ireland. Early one morning, the son walks down to the sea with his new wetsuit, and disappears. Investigators suspect the mother, who is racked with guilt: "A wetsuit? Why in the world? What sort of mother?"

The Death Factory The Death Factory, by Greg Iles

On the even of the much-anticipated release of Natchez Burning, Iles's first novel in five years, the author has crafted a prequel of sorts to the novel, an appetizer in which his long-running protagonist, Penn Cage, confronts more of the dark family secrets that continue to haunt him.
Baby Steps Baby Steps, by Mara Altman

This is Altman’s fourth Kindle Single, continuing her blunt, funny, and very popular explorations of the adventures in adulthood. Previously she's written about facial hair, orgasms, stand-up comedy, and diamond engagement rings. Here, she confronts the prospect of motherhood, from the expectations of others to her own ambivalence.
Brian Greene: The Kindle Singles Interview Brian Greene: The Kindle Singles Interview, by Rivka Galchen

Author and journalist Galchen (named by The New Yorker as one of 20 Writers Under 40) interviews physicist Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos), who recently launched a series of free online science courses at World Science U ( Here, he discusses string theory, Einstein, Higgs boson, and the nothingness of empty space.
Sleep Donation

Sleep Donation, by Karen Russell

When an insomnia epidemic afflicts America, an organization called Slumber Corps recruits healthy sleepers to donate sleep to insomniacs.  Though soundly in sci-fi and Orwellian terrain, the corruption and greed of the story give it an urgency that feels as if it could've been ripped from today's headlines.

Read Amazon editor Kevin Nguyen's interview with Russell.


Colum-McCann-Credit-Dustin-AkslandIn this Q&A between McCann and our friends at Byliner, McCann talks him about his heritage, his craft, and Gone.

Byliner: You grew up in Ireland, a country you’ve noted has been “shaped by books.” Last summer, Charlie Rose asked you what it means to be Irish. You answered, “We have an ability to sing, and the ability to tell a story, and the ability to live our lives out loud. … We seem to embrace a lot of different experiences. Also, we have that sort of lurking sadness.”  Was it from that lurking sadness that you pulled Gone?

McCann: I suppose Gone has several elements of lurking sadness. It exists there in the landscape too. The cottage out on the edge of the water. The single mother. The struggle against the darkness. The loneliness at the end of the year. Not your typical Christmas story, that’s for sure!  But I wanted to invert the expectations, too, and hopefully Gone does that in some way. It turns the tables. There’s a line in there about metal pipes embedded in the stone walls--in an odd way the wind moves over the mouths of the metal pipes and makes the wall sing.

Byliner: Mark Twain is famously credited with saying, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” The perfect word matters, because the relationship between the word and a reader’s understanding of it (and reaction to it) matters. But sometimes it’s very hard to put into words a specific feeling. There’s no translation that’s true enough, good enough. Tell us about how that influenced your decision to make Rebecca Marcus, the mother in Gone, a translator.

McCann: I was fascinated by the lack of a word for a parent who has lost a child. We have no word in English. I thought for sure there’d be a word in Irish but there is none. And then I looked in several other languages and could not find one, until I found the word Sh’khol in Hebrew. I’m still not sure why so many languages don’t have a word for this sort of bereavement, this shadowing. And so it seemed a good thing to turn my character into a translator. And then there was the Jewish aspect which attracted me also. There are fewer and fewer Jews in Ireland, but we still have one of the most famous Jewish characters in literary history, of course, in Leopold Bloom. So there was a direct reference to language there also.  

Byliner: Gone is your first short story in a decade. What brought you back to that form, and how does that form differ in routine from writing a novel?

McCann: I love short stories. They’re like small imploding universes. They are very tightly bound and controlled. I’d been wanting to write one for ages but just got tangled up in novels. The novel is the same in the sense that it is also a universe, but it explodes outwards with all that shrapnel going in several different directions. I don’t see too much difference in the forms except for the fact that writing short stories is like sprinting rather than long-distance running. Novels are more difficult simply because they are longer and require more juggling, but short stories are closer to perfection, if you can get the language right.

Byliner: As a writer, you create characters and their stories. How has writing helped you to "create" your own life?

McCann: Oh, I’m a complete and utter fiction. Then again, we all are. We shape ourselves by our imaginative reach. 

Byliner: When accepting the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, you told the audience that being allowed to tell a story and listen to a story is a privilege. “Stories are democracy,” you said. “They are the purest form of engagement.” Is there one particular book that stands out for you as having engaged you and inspired your desire to write?

McCann: There are thousands of them. I hate to choose one. But Ulysses is up there. As is Ondaatje’s Coming through Slaughter. As is Berger’s To the Wedding. As is True History of the Kelly Gang. As is, as is, as is, as is … oh, I could go the length of my bookshelves and beyond. 

Amazon Asks: Peter Mountford, on Nabokov and Creative Sparks


Peter Mountford's debut, 2011's award-winning A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, explored the overlapping pulls of wealth, love, greed, and deceit through the conflicted coming-of-age of an alleged journalist working for a US hedge fund in Bolivia. It was a lively and, though set in 2005, timely story about power, politics, and how far people will go to achieve the lifestyle they believe they deserve.

His new novel, The Dismal Science, comes at the imperfections of capitalism from another angle. A middle-aged VP at the World Bank, who's lost his wife and becomes embroiled in scandal, tries to start his live over when he has no idea how, or even what that means. A man of habit and conviction, he's suddenly neither. "Look, this is capitalism," says the economist, before his life collapses. "We happen to think it works." 

In this smart, somber tale, Mountford seems to be saying, about capitalism and life: It works, until it doesn't.


DS-BookImage_01-shrunkWhat's the elevator pitch for your book?

The Dismal Science tells of a self-destructive and emotionally unstable executive at the World Bank whose outbursts have geopolitical consequences -- at turns tragic and comedic, the novel is a meditation on the fragile nature of identity.

What's on your nightstand?

Bossypants by Tina Fey, A Life in Men by Gina Frangello, and advance reader copies of The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner, and Funny Once by Antonya Nelson.

Preferred reading format?

Print. I don’t object to digital reading in the way that some people do, but I just haven’t bought one of those e-readers. I keep waiting for someone to give me one. Hint hint!

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Lolita. I was pretty oblivious, I’m sorry to say, and I thought that because Nabokov was Russian, that meant he was from the 19th Century and wrote enormous novels with dozens of characters. I started reading and was floored. I didn’t know that prose could be that magnificent. I read all of his published books after that, and he wrote a lot of books. These lectures on Gogol, a book on Don Quixote, etc. All for that voice, those sentences. As he puts it in the opening of Lolita: “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.”

What are you psyched about now?

Getting back to writing soon. I’ve been out promoting this book for a while -- touring for a few weeks. But I feel all this potential energy collecting, creative equivalent to static electricity. It’s building up inside me -- shedding sparks a bit, at this point. It’s going to be fun once I can stop charging around and sit still for a minute.

Favorite line?

W.H. Auden: “Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.”

What's next for you?

A novel set in Sri Lanka in 2009, at the peak of their civil war. It’s narrated by a 30-something woman who’s always been a bit of an unambitious dabbler, but finds herself in a very demanding situation, wielding a lot of power.


> See all of Peter's books; visit his website

> Read his New York Times Magazine "Lives" column

How I Wrote It: Willy Vlautin, on "The Free"

VlautinThe characters in Willy Vlautin's quietly brilliant new novel, The Free, embody the embattled middle class: they're wounded (physically, emotionally, financially), they're just getting by, they're hardworking.

Of course, the title is comentary in itself. None of them is free. Not the night-shift worker at the veteran's home, who's lost his home and family; not the brain-damaged Iraq War vet; not his nurse, who's also caring for her mentally ill father. They're the people who "make the rich guys richer."

Yet, strangely, the book is infused with hope. Unwilling to give up, they fight, with what little strength they've got left. Like this exchange:

Wounded vet (in a dream): "You know, my uncle said a person can only see so many bad things before it ruins him."

Girlfriend: "I hope that's not true."

With so many beautifully sad and sadly beautiful moments in this book, I still can't figure out how Vlautin did it... He made me believe they were all going to be okay.



This book started as a series of issues I couldn’t stop thinking about, worrying about. The increasing expense of healthcare and how that affects the working class, soldiers coming home war with long term injuries, and the difficulties of taking care of someone with a long term illness or injury. All heavy and difficult subjects and the book about killed me as I was so worried about getting things right. There’s a lot of moving parts in this one, three stories going on at the same time. That being said, I always try to cut myself some slack here and there. I put Leroy and Jeanette on a boat in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I put in the great Fado singer, Amália Rodrigues, and I’ve always had a thing for nurses so I put in a pretty great nurse, Pauline Hawkins.


I dedicated the book to the patron saint of nurses, Camillus de Lellis. I wrote it for him almost as a distress call in hopes he would look after the sorts of people who are in the book: the wounded soldier, Leroy, the nurse, Pauline, and Freddie the working class guy who’s drowning in medical debt. Camillus de Lellis was a remarkable man. He was a soldier who was an alcoholic and gambleholic. He suffered a leg wound that would never heal and he ended up destitute in a pauper’s hospital. After a time he became an orderly, then a nurse and then a priest. He helped start what we now know as the Red Cross.


As a fan I tend to like novels that follow one character through a journey. Often I’m pulled out of the story when it switches points of view. My greatest dread as a fan is when I start wondering why the writer did this or that. Even thinking about the writer isn’t a good thing for me as a fan. But this story needed the three main characters and so I worked as hard as I could to make sure the transitions from character to character went as smoothly as possible. I always try to write about things that are important to me, things that haunt me or scare me or worry me. Things I can’t shake. This book is the same as my others in that regard but the subject matter was more out of my comfort zone. I write about a brain damaged soldier, health care in the US, and in some degrees religion. All heavy and heated subjects, so it was a difficult book. It took me just six months to put down the first draft but then I spent three years editing it. I think I did thirteen full re-writes before I even showed it to anyone.


I have it made in that regard. I rent an office in a part of Portland called St. Johns. The room is on the second floor and two of the windows look out across the street to a bar called Slims. It opens first thing in the  morning so I can watch people drink and smoke for breakfast but I don’t have to. It’s the best. The room has free heat and I have a desk and a couch and the side window looks out at an old movie theater. The street outside has five old man bars, a bookstore, a taqueria, a record store, and donut shop. It’s heaven. I always write pretty good there, to me I feel like the luckiest person alive when I get to work there.


I’ve never been able to write to music. I day dream too much for it to work. I just start drifting off when there’s a song I like playing. But even so a few years back I made a loop of instrumental music, atmospheric mood music. Not quite whale sounds but close. I wrote an entire novel to this 45 minute loop and it was a blast. It was probably the most fun I ever had writing, but the poor novel was so damaged and beat up and off kilter that I pulled the plug on it after the first edit. It had too many holes and dents to save. Like my mind when I listen to music, the story just sort of drifted off into the ether. It was fun as hell to write that way, but I learned my lesson.


For me it’s all about not getting tired. I can go pretty good until 2 or 3 PM and then I start falling asleep. If I’m not doing good then I call it a day but if I’m on a hot streak I hit the nearby donut shop for coffee and donuts and then I plow on through until I can’t think anymore.


I used to not be able to read anything similar to what I was working on, but I’ve changed over the years. Now I can read most anything and still stay focused on my work. But every book I write, towards the end of the editing process, I read both IRONWEED by William Kennedy and FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner. Both of those books are my guide. I read those and realize I still have a lot more work to do. They make me want to try harder and my hope is always to get closer to writing a book as good as either of those.


When I’m writing fiction I try to live pretty clean. I don’t usually drink, I try to eat better and go running. It’s a long haul writing a novel. I spend so many hours sitting in a room that I have to keep my shit together. I try not to look at the internet but it’s hard not to as it seems like I’m always looking something up. When I used to write at the horse track the temptation was that I wanted to bet every race they had going on the TV’s. Gambling’s all about discipline though. I only let myself bet four races a day. Most times I was betting to break even and buy myself lunch for free but at times I’d get carried away. Nothing like being broke, having a bad day writing, and then losing fifty bucks ‘cause some long shot nosed out your horse.


>See all of Vlautin's books

>Listen to this free audiobook from Audible, in which Vlautin reads excerpts from The Free and discusses his characters--accompanied by Vlautin's own music.


Jennifer Senior, on Modern Parenting and "All Joy and No Fun"

EJoyight years ago, while writing a story for New York magazine, Jennifer Senior came across a researcher's finding that parenthood didn't improve people's happiness "one iota." In fact, it had a negative impact--a radical idea that stuck with her and then flared anew when she became a mom a few years later. 

In All Joy and No Fun, Senior further explores the impact our kids have on our marriages, our self confidence, our friendships, and our sanity. After interviewing moms, dads, psychiatrists, sociologists, economists, and others she concluded that the idea she'd stumbled across in 2006--that we love our kids, and they make us crazy--"was both right, and totally wrong."

She's applied some of what she learned to raising her own son. For example: "I don't have any problem saying this is not a democracy."

All Joy and No Fun was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for February.


Roddy Doyle, on Reviving Jimmy Rabbitte in "The Guts"

DoyleIn his acclaimed 1987 debut The Commitments, Roddy Doyle introduced the lovable character of Jimmy Rabbitte, a working class Dubliner who manages a scruffy R&B band. (Along with The Snapper and the Booker prize finalist The Van, Jimmy's story is known as The Barrytown Trilogy.)

At the time, Ireland was in the midst of an economic recession, though it had little effect Jimmy and his mates. Now, as Ireland's economy has again slumped into a recession, Doyle started wondering how that downturn might be affecting Jimmy and his family and friends. "I started thinking: well, what would they be doing now in this new recession? ... How would they be getting on?" Doyle said. "So I decided to add a quarter century to his age."

In The Guts, Jimmy is 47 and learns he has cancer of the bowel. Doyle, now 55, has seen his own friends fight cancer and other illnesses, and sometimes losing. He wanted to capture a man fighting not only against cancer but against the challenges of middle age.


>See all of Roddy Doyle's books

Spotlight Interview: Lisa Moore, Author of "Caught"

MooreLisa Moore, the best Canadian writer you’ve possibly never heard of, lives and writes in Newfoundland, in the rugged northeast corner of North America, closer to Greenland than New York. The quirky characters and history of her remote province have inspired her celebrated short stories and novels, which have been nominated for numerous literary awards, including the Man Booker Prize.

Moore’s latest, Caught, published last year in Canada and a finalist for the Giller Prize, was recently selected by Amazon’s editors as a Best Book of the Month “Spotlight” pick.

Speaking from her home in downtown St. John, Moore explained how the true story of a band of 1970s Newfoundland pot smugglers inspired Caught, which features a likeable escaped convict named David Slaney, who traverses the continent en route to another drug deal that, he hopes, might redeem him.

Moore grew up hearing the stories about the local drug runners who tried to smuggle bales of pot into Newfoundland, stories full of awe and bravado that elevated the smugglers to folk hero status. In creating David Slaney, Moore also found herself admiring her character’s chutzpah, so at odds with a tradition-bound Newfoundland society built around fishing.

Caught“I kind of fell in love with him,” she said of Slaney. “He’s much more adventurous than I am. I sort of want to be like him.”

In Moore’s hands, Slaney comes across as a decent man with a hunger for a better life, willing to take huge risks to taste freedom. She found herself rooting for her potentially doomed character. “He had a vision,” she said. “A vision that ran counter to the status quo.”

The book’s title refers to the many ways in which her characters--Slaney’s co-conspirator, Hearn, his pursuer, detective Patterson, and the beautiful young Ada—are “caught.”

“Everyone comes to terms with not hitting the mark, not really being free,” she said.

As her characters make compromises and come to terms with the limits on their freedom, the questions she tried to explore were: Is the pursuit of an unfettered life worth the risks? Can it be achieved alone, or can we only be free if we trust others to help us?

“The book is about freedom, but also about trust,” she said.

Moore spent four years on Caught, about the same amount of time each of her five novels has taken. Over the years, while raising two children, she’s learned to write “on the fly”—writing in notebooks in cafes, in the line at the bank, while traveling, early in the morning.

She’s currently working on a collection of short stories.


> See all of Lisa Moore's books

Fitness Guru Tony Horton on "The Big Picture"

Tony3When I moved to Seattle in 2008, I was a self-employed writer, struggling to finish my next book. I had no friends, I worked long hours in a basement prone to flooding, and I quickly learned that Seattle summers are beautiful but short, that running in the rain gets old fast. So I made a new friend, Tony Horton, whose infomercials for his P90X workout DVDs were late-night TV staples. Those DVDs--some weightlifting, some yoga, some goofy banter--became my constant companions, the most "human" interaction I'd have all week. (My kids: "Where's dad?" My wife: "Downstairs with Tony.") With Tony's help, I beat the dreary Seattle winter blues. I learned the power of the pushup and the pullup, and how a good workout and a good night's sleep could help me finish a book.

Now, Tony's got a book of his own (that's him on the left, not me), which I was thrilled to find inside recent mailing from Harper Collins. It's the first time he's written about the broader philosophy behind his popular fitness workouts. And it's one of our Best Books of the Month in business & leadership. Now 55, and looking as buff as ever, he spoke to us via email about The Big Picture.

In a nutshell, describe your goal for writing this book... Who did you write this for? Who’s your target audience?

TonyI wrote this book for that massive demographic of people who are doing nothing and wasting their time with things that don't work. I'm providing simple rules that inspire you to stay accountable. At the same time, I wrote it for the people who might already be well on their way in some ways, but need a little fine-tuning in others. This demographic includes a lot the folks who’ve discovered fitness using my programs, like P90X, P90X2, P90X3, and TMT. Are the physical aspects of your life working? Great! Let’s work on the mental and emotional—and while we’re at it, let’s put some thought into your bigger role on this spinning blue marble called Earth. So, to paraphrase John Fogerty, I wrote a book for everyone--except maybe the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai and a few other enlightened souls. They don’t really need my help.

I think it’ll be reassuring for readers to learn that you’ve had your share of challenges and setbacks. Was this difficult to share, or are you comfortable discussing your personal journey?

Absolutely! This is the book I've wanted to write for ten years. Anybody and everybody these days can write a diet book or an exercise book. If those books comprehensively changed lives then I wouldn't have had to write this one. The problem is, they just provide one, maybe two keys for a door with many, many locks. I wanted to write something that bridged the gap between fitness and self-help. If I had to dig deep and use my own story to illustrate that, so be it. Lead by example, I say!

Your success seems to be a perfect example of perseverance. Have you always had confidence that you’d find your way? Or, like most folks, did you have your periods of wallowing? Sadness?

Sure. Like any life, there was some sadness. I wouldn't say I was wallowing in it but I had my ups and downs well into my early 40s. But the formula came together about that time I began to follow my own rules. When that happened, everything got better. In a way, this goes back to your previous question. I’m not afraid to share the darker aspects of my past with other people who are sad. Hopefully, it’ll help them cut back on the wallowing. The Big Picture is a wallow-free zone!

Was there an “aha” moment when you learned that having a plan could make all the difference?

Probably around the time my first big workout program Power90 hit, but it wasn’t an “aha” moment as much as a slow lifting of the fog. Things came into focus, the bits and pieces of the plan were solidified, the struggle diminished, and the confidence and success were realized. It was as though the plan had been there all along, but it went from an intuitive thing to a tangible set of rules.

This is your first non-workout book – can you describe the difference between being a fitness coach to, sort of, a life coach?

Being a fitness coach comes relatively easy to me. It always has. But with the increased responsibility of becoming a life coach there's a lot more pressure to get it right! That said, I’ve discovered that a lot of what I teach people about fitness can apply across the board, so that’s a big help. For example, finding balance (law 9) is crucial for fitness. I’m talking muscle balance, aerobic/anaerobic balance, core balance, the usual deal. But how’s the balance in the rest of your life? Are you balancing relationships with personal time? Work with play? Pushing your self with taking it easy? You need to find balance in every aspect of your life.

Tony2You strongly believe that eating well and exercising are the keys to a happy life. Can you briefly sum up your personal philosophy on the link between health and happiness?

It's very rare that people who don't move and eat garbage are as happy as they pretend to be. Yet, a vast majority of people who exercise, have a sense of adventure, use their body in interesting ways, and consume the right foods to feed the organs and the brain, they're living authentic, interesting, productive, altruistic lives.

Do you think habits and healthy routines are keys to achieving success with your 11 laws? Why do you think many Americans seem more addicted to bad habits than good ones?

For part one, the answer is yes, absolutely, but it’s hard to achieve for a vast majority of people. As for part two, bad habits are easy and discipline is hard—and “easy” is where people gravitate. A good work ethic requires a painstaking daily effort. Easy typically leads to a life long list of problems but the discipline of having a plan leads to an extraordinary rewarding life. In the long run, the easy way makes life harder and the harder way makes life easier.

How many times a day would you estimate you say (out loud or in your head) “do your best, forget the rest”?

That’s my number one rule! I would say it depends on the day. If I'm with a large group of people who've done one of my programs, I’d say 20 times, at least. But typically, if I'm not shooting a workout or speaking to a large group, once or twice a day.


Author Michael Connelly on Bringing Harry Bosch to the Screen

Black-echoIn 1992, a seasoned crime reporter named Michael Connelly published his first novel, the story of a body in a drainpipe, a bank robbery, and police corruption, based partly on a true crime that had occurred in LA. Featuring Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, a Vietnam vet turned LAPD detective, The Black Echo won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, established Connelly as a new voice in the mystery/thriller world and Bosch as one of the more complex characters in modern crime fiction.

Now, more than a dozen novels later, Bosch is coming to the little screen. Amazon Studios has produced the first episode in a hoped-for series entitled Bosch, co-written by Connelly and with Titus Welliver (who has also appeared in Argo and The Good Wife) as Connelly's maverick detective. In the pilot, Bosch investigates the murder of a 13-year-old boy while facing accusations that he, too, is a murderer.

The pilot episode is available for free. (More Amazon Studios pilots can be viewed at; Amazon solicits votes from viewers to determine which pilots will become a series.) Bosch is already finding an audience: the pilot has received more than 3,000 five-star ratings.

Recently, we spoke with Connelly by email to find out how it feels to see Bosch brought to life.


ConnellyYou’ve been down this road before, with The Lincoln Lawyer. But Bosch is your man, your best-known character. Any parental concerns about setting him loose onto the screen?

There were many concerns initially. My process in the past was to do due diligence on the producers interested in my stuff and then hand it off to the people I thought most likely to be loyal to it. That worked very well with The Lincoln Lawyer. But with Bosch I had a twenty-year investment of creativity and he is really the character I am all about as an author. So when it came to making a deal my terms were pretty simple and unalterable: If you want Bosch you have to take me, too, and I am going in to safeguard how this character will be presented and I am going to have a say in every decision I want to have a say in. I got lucky and found a partner who said that’s a deal, we want you to have a say.

Describe your role in the process. As executive producer, did you sit on set and drink coffee, or were you actively involved in the development (in addition to the writing)?

I was very involved in most dimensions of the project. It began with the writing but went into casting, production, locations. I was the one who suggested Titus Welliver as an actor to play Bosch. I found every location in the opening sequence, right down to the house the suspect Harry is following comes out of. So it was really great because I was not demanding to do these things. I was invited. The showrunner, Eric Overmyer, and our fellow executive producer, Henrik Bastin, wanted this level of involvement from me. We want readers of the books to look at this and feel it is right in line with the books.

There are risks to bringing a well-known character to TV or film. (See Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher). What was your biggest fear about the page-to-screen translation?

You know what’s weird is that I had so much involvement in all aspects of this that it left me without an out. If people don’t like it or the critics trash it, I can’t point the finger and say Hollywood ruined my book. I have to point the finger at myself because what we did here is what I want. I regret nothing about this pilot or the choices we made. I think it’s a loyal and pretty wonderful adaptation of Harry Bosch and his Los Angeles. So to me the risk is what if I am wrong. But it’s still a risk I am willing and happy to take.

Bosch2I’m sure there’s never a perfect match between an author’s image of his hero, and the actor’s portrayal. But is there anything about Bosch that you thought Titus Welliver particularly captured?

The biggest challenge of this whole thing was making the jump from a very internal character on the page to an actor on screen that can communicate those internal goings on. Harry doesn’t say a lot in the books, but he feels a lot and he observes and thinks a lot. How do we get that on the screen without Harry talking and describing his every thought? It was hard but I think we found the answer in Titus. I knew it from the first day I met him. From the first hour. He has an internal intensity that comes out in subtle ways but it does come out. His look doesn’t necessarily match the Harry of the books. His eyes are not piercingly dark but those eyes are metaphor in the books. Here we have the real thing, a flesh and blood character whose eyes certainly convey that inner darkness and pain and resolve. There is a lot going on there and that’s what I wanted. I think in just this one episode he has taken on an ownership of Bosch and I am really looking forward to seeing where he goes with it. In fact, I can’t wait.

BoschFinally, do you have any favorite book-to-screen detectives or other characters?

I think number one on my list is the controversial portrayal of Philip Marlowe by Elliott Gould. I loved The Long Goodbye (1973) and watch it every year. Another one I watch is Steve McQueen as Bullitt (1968) which many people don’t realize was based on a book. I also love the 1980 adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s The Black Marble in which Robert Foxworth played the ne’er do well Sgt. Valnikov. I thought that was great and he was perfect. There’s Paul Newman as Harper (nee Archer in the Ross MacDonald books). More recently I thought Russell Crowe’s embodiment of Bud White in L.A. Confidential was a fantastic realization of the character in James Ellroy’s novel. I could go on and on. I love it when a character from a crime novel really comes to life on film. Last one: William Petersen as Will Graham in Manhunter (1986), based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon.

Exclusive Excerpt: The Letters of Ernest Hemingway

HemingwayIn this second collection of Hemingway's correspondence, general editor Sandra Spanier and her team of Hemingway scholars--Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert W. Trogdon--have essentially crafted a portrait of a young man becoming an artist. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923-1925 features 280 letters, many of them never before published, and a significant proportion of them dealing with Hemingway's time in Europe, particularly his ex-pat days in Paris and his bullfighting days in Spain. Other letters explore Hemingway's influential relationships with Sylvia Beach, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Gertrude Stein.

Our thanks to Spanier, and Cambridge University Press, for sharing these two letters. The first was sent to Ezra Pound, in which Hemingway describes the infamous, painful loss at a Paris train station of a briefcase containing years of his writing. (It was never found). In the second letter, to his friend Gregory Clark, Hemingway reveals his views on bullfighting. "You see it isn't sport," he wrote. "It's a tragedy."


To Ezra Pound, 23 January [1923]

Chamby Sur Montreux


23 Janvier

Hem1Dear Ezra—:

We have the intention of joining you. How is it? What do you pay? What is the hotel? Can I, like Northcliffe on the Rhine, preserve my incognito among your fascist pals? or are they liable to give Hadley castor oil? Mussolini told me at Lausanne, you know, that I couldn’t ever live in Italy again. How the hell are you any way? e sua moglia? How long are you going to stay? Answer any of these that seem important.

I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenilia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job complet by including all carbons, duplicates etc. All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem which was later scrapped, some correspondence between John McClure and me, and some journalistic carbons.

You, naturally, would say,“Good” etc. But don’t say it to me. I aint yet reached that mood. I worked 3 years on the damn stuff. Some like that Paris 1922 I fancied.

Am now working on new stuff. We have 6 to 8 months grub money ahead. I have laid off the barber in order that I wont be able to take a newspaper job no matter how badly St. Anthonied. The follicles functioning at a high rate of speed. I am on the point of being thrown out from all except the society of outliers like yourself. It is several weeks since I would have dared show at the Anglo-American.

The lire appears to be dropping. Evidently Douglas is a greater man than Mussolini. Dave O’Neil the Celto-Kike has just bought two left boots for 18 francs (a mistake at the factory)—the salesman telling him he wont be able to tell the difference after a few weeks.  Dave is jubilious. The boots, of course, are very painful.

Hadley sends you and Dorothy Pound her love—as I do—write me—Immer (as they used to say in the Rhenish Republic)



To Gregory Clark, [c. mid-July 1923]

Dear Greg—

The Star has stopped coming, nothing since the last of May—So I haven’t been able to follow you up the Labrador and feel uneasy as hell. How does it go I wonder? Christ I hope you have a good trip and the stuff pans out. Wish I were along with you. Bet you’re hitting ‘em in the eye with the copy.

On my own hook am just back from a trip through Spain. Travelled round from Madrid to Seville to Ronda, Granada, back to Madrid and out to Aranjuez and back with a bunch of bull fighters I got to know living at the Aguilar the bull fighters pensione in Madrid. It’s some Metier. I went down to Spain after that alone. Sure have got the stuff. Some very good stories will come out of it some day.

Gee I’d love to take you to a bullfight. You’d like it better than anything I’ll bet. You see it isnt sport. It’s a tragedy. A great tragedy. And God how it’s played!

The tragedy is the death of the bull—the inevitable death of the bull, the terrible, almost prehistoric bull that runs with a soft, lightrun, can whirl like a cat, is death right up until he is absolutely dead himself and is stupid and brave as the people of any country and altogether wonderful and horrifying.

You never imagined any such power. Well the whole thing is his life and death and the horses, picadors and occasional toreros he takes off with him are only incidental. It’s not like the French duel. I saw 3 matadors badly gored out of 24 bulls killed.


Credits: The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923–1925, edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert W. Trogdon © 2013. The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society and The Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.

(Photos courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)


How I Wrote It: Drew Chapman, on "The Ascendant"

AcendantDrew Chapman cut his teeth as a television screenwriter, and that style of writing--character driver, fast paced, tightly plotted, and cinematic--comes through on every page of his debut novel, The Ascendant. Featuring a braniac bond trader with a bad attitude and an unlikely crew of cyber warriors, The Ascendant is a story for an Edward Snowden/WikiLeaks/NSA-fearing generation.

After years of writing for the screen, and being confined by the strictures of the medium, Chapman decided to explore the freedom of writing a novel. Initially, he planned to self-publish the book, but first showed it to a few publishers. Simon & Schuster snatched it up, and Chapman is now writing the second book in a planned trilogy. (TV rights have been sold to Fox, with Chapman attached to write and produce.)

Watch Chapman discuss how he created his likeable, renegade hero, and how recent cyber events have shown him that the fictional scenarios he'd crafted aren't so far-fetched after all.

How I Wrote It: Gary Shteyngart, on "Little Failure"

GaryWhen he started writing his first-ever memoir, Gary Shteyngart says he thought he knew plenty about his own life story. As he began researching his past--an awkward childhood in the Soviet Union, his family's move to the United States, his early struggles to become a writer--he discovered another story altogether.

"By the time I finished, I realized just how little I had known," he said.

This discovery comes late in his funny, sad, true story of love, hope, and family, Little Failure. (The title comes from his mother's telling nickname, a Russian/English mashup, failurchka.) There's a tender melancholy to the story, a sweetness. Instead of mocking his immigrant parents and their unreasonable expectations for their Americanized misfit of a son, Shteyngart ultimately comes to understand them better. 

"If I had spent part of my youth feeling rage and unhappiness toward my parents, the rage of a Little Failure, by the time I finished writing this book I felt nothing but sympathy and sorrow and love," he says. 

Describe Little Failure in one sentence.

Soviet fur-covered asthmatic immigrant recreates his world through English words and finally learns to breathe.

Who did you write this book for?

GaryThis is a Twentieth Century story. In 1979, my loving but bickering parents, my beloved grandma and I moved from the USSR, a waning superpower, to the United States, the world's last superpower. This book is the story of my family’s experience, the experience of jumping out of a black and white Soviet film into a pool or pure American Technicolor. I want other Americans to know this story, how surreal, heartbreaking, and spectacular being an immigrant in America can be. Here are the horrors and wonders of immigration, from being the Commie “Red Gerbil” of Hebrew School to the intensity of flying through the air on my first highway overpass in a sedan that could have passed for a truck back in Leningrad. I also wrote it for all the people who have ever felt they let their parents down, as I did. At a recent reading a young teary-eyed woman asked me to sign the book "To a Little Failure, unemployed paralegal." The expectations of immigrant parents--Little Failure was my mom's nickname for me--can be so demanding that sometimes it's hard to see their love shining through. But the love is there. So, lastly, I did write it for my parents. Their life stories, their histories, indeed, our entire family history, is so much larger than just who I am as a person and as a writer. The past is bigger than all of us and this book is an attempt to uncover and celebrate a difficult but necessary journey.


I write mostly in a little house in Upstate New York. I write in bed, typing on a Mac Air, propped up by at least four pillows. There are tons of trees outside my window, and the blue jays go nuts on warm days. If I squint I can see a few very minor hills in the distance. To break up the routine I visit the sheep farm next door. There’s nothing more peaceful than looking at sheep after a few hours of writing. Unfortunately, the best friend of the sheep, an Australian shepherd dog, often comes out to chase me away.


I am too embarrassed to tell you that I listen primarily to the German electronic music band Kraftwerk while writing. The steady beats keep me typing away. Don’t judge me please! (Sample lyric: “Vee are zeh robots, tum tum tum”)


When I was a little boy my grandma back in Leningrad wanted me to be a writer so badly she paid me a slice of my favorite cheese for every page I wrote. Even today, Random House pays me in cheese, so I keep a fresh wheel of it by my bedside as I work. When you’re this lactose tolerant, cheese can be the best motivator. For those who can’t eat cheese, I suggest dark chocolate. For those who can’t eat dark chocolate, key lime pie.


Napping is an important part of getting work done. I am a huge admirer of pro-siesta cultures. You eat some cheese, you take a nap, you visit the sheep, and the words just come tumbling out.


When I was in my twenties I saw a book on the architecture of my hometown, St. Petersburg, Russia, in a bookstore. The photo of one church in particular led me to an awesome panic attack, and when I returned to the city of my birth and visited the church, I had a dreadful bout of anxiety as well. Little Failure is structured as something of a mystery--why does this one church incite such feelings of dread in me? The answer isn’t revealed until the last chapter when I revisit St. Petersburg with my mother and father and find out more about myself and my parents than I had bargained for.


> See all of Gary Shteyngart's books

> See the scrapbook Gary recently shared with us

> Watch Gary and his "husband" James Franco, in one of the funnier book trailers ever produced

How I Wrote It: Paul Lynch, on "Red Sky in Morning"

Paul Lynch's darkly beautiful and grimly funny Red Sky in Morning is the kind of story where a man drains blood from a heifer's sliced-open neck, mixes it with oats for breakfast, then pins the cow's vein back together. It's the kind of story where a man catches an eel, bashes it's head, then eats it raw. The kind of story where the threat of bloody violence is always nearby.

Lynch's Coll Coyle, a frightened and frightening man, flees his home after a murder. At his heels, across the bleak Irish landscape and ultimately across the Atlantic, lurks his diligent hunter--even more ruthless than Javier (of Les Miserables). Gorgeously written--like an Irish version of Daniel Woodrell--this is the kind of story where vengeance becomes a raw, animalistic obsession. Lynch displays a bold, unique voice, and a flair for poetic brutality. 


My writing desk — Paul LynchWho did you write this book for?

I wrote this book for myself. I wanted to write a book that I would like to read. There is no point writing a book to please others. Sometimes, I like to imagine the perfect reader--the reader who not just understands what I am about, but soaks up every word as if it were written for them. I have been fortunate in that I have got to meet such readers now and again. 

What’s the first line and what does it say about the book?

“Night sky was black and then there was blood, morning crack of light on the edge of the earth.” The ideal first sentence contains within it an intimation of the whole book. That’s what I was hoping for.  


I have a black, battered Ikea desk. I keep on it my Collins dictionary, my Roget’s thesaurus, stacks of books and notes, my laptop and printer. There are little notes posted to myself all over the place. I particularly like the catchphrase of Leonardo Da Vinci, taped to a book: Ostinato Rigore! (Which means, pretty much, Relentless Rigor). The wall to my right is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelf rammed with books. While I read almost all my newspapers online, I’m not a big fan of e-books because I like to see what I’ve read and remember it. Books are a way of making memory physical. On very cold days, I’ll move to an armchair beside the fire and write there. Sometimes, if the light is really good, I’ll write at the kitchen table. Anywhere but in bed.


I need my trusty Mac laptop to write. I can’t work with anything else. I’m used to the feel of the keys. I also like, more than anything else, Apple’s Pages. I’ve tried other software but it doesn’t work for me. I write in Times New Roman, 12 point, and arrange the margins so that the screen looks like a page from a book. This spurs me on to make the writing as perfect as I can make it.


Large parts of Red Sky in Morning were written listening to Wayne Shorter’s classic 1965 album Speak No Evil. I find that jazz loosens up the deep place of my mind, lets me find my own strange rhythms. Generally, I find the knottier the jazz, the better. Anything with singing is a distraction. Listening to classical music tends to have the unconscious effect of making my writing too smooth.


Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. I’m not quite Balzac, but I can’t start without a strong espresso. After an hour and a half or so, I need another. Nothing else, mind, and certainly not alcohol. Can’t imagine anything more ridiculous than drink-writing.


I read continually and don’t understand writers who say they don’t read while working on a book. For a start, a book takes me about two years to write, so there’s no way I am depriving myself of reading during that time. Another thing is that reading other writers is continually inspiring--reading great writers reminds you how hard you have to work. Most  mornings, before I start, I’ll read a passage from a great poet, or some Shakespeare. It’s a little hamstring stretch before going on a run.


How I Wrote It: Jim Harrison on "Brown Dog"

After writing about Brown Dog, aka B.D., for more than twenty years, Jim Harrison has collected six B.D. stories into a collection called Brown Dog (one of our Best Books of the Month for December). These novellas--one of which has never been published--span nearly a quarter century, and it's an enormously satisfying reading experience to spend so much time with Harrison's hard-drinking, maddening, loveable, horny, scrappy B.D. We asked Harrison (via email) to discuss his most enduring fictional character.

Harrison, Jim - credit Wyatt McSpadden~~

B.D. is a (mostly) likable f**kup, maddening but worth rooting for. He's very familiar to me (he's my brother, he's me), and I wonder: has that always been the idea--to craft a recognizable, all-Id, Everyman Screwup?

Yes he is, but he's comparatively free. Part of being free seems to be being broke. You don't have to worry about money all the time if you're willing to just get by on a little food and a six-pack. I don't think of him as a "f**k-up" but as someone who lives within the limits of his environment quite well. His is in a tough place. I remember a miner out on strike years ago who fainted from hunger while playing in a park with his kids.

You've been writing about B.D. for many years. Has he evolved? How?

I don't think of Brown Dog changing. That's more an upper + middle-class tactic, where they're always saying, "I've changed." He's not involved in that kind of psychodrama. In his world it's about pussy or getting a drink.

There are strong female characters in these novellas, as in many of your books. Is there a source for that apparent understanding of women? Have you learned about the female perspective from the  women in your life?

I was raised around strong females, with my mother and her four sisters, my own two sisters, and then having a wife and two daughters who are very strong. Plus female dogs, horses and chickens, so I'm used to them. You can't help but absorb their perspective, plus I read so many female novelists that it naturally gets into my system.

BDThe Upper Peninsula… is it your Yoknapatawpha County? What is it about that region that inspires you? And what is it about the country, the woods, that gives you so much to write about?

I'm not sure about Yoknapatawpha County. I revere Faulkner above any other 20th century writer, but I must say I don't think of the Upper Peninsula in quite that way. What I like is its immense expanse of woods, gullies and water, what with being bordered on the south by Lake Michigan and on the north by Lake Superior. It's a rich community in that mental sense of a vast number of people just trying to get by. You don't have to hear about the grand ambitions of our society in that culture. If a guy has a pickup that works, he doesn't get stuck too often and he can afford a few drinks he's a success. He doesn't complain about a hangover because he'd be ignoring the fact that he can afford to get drunk. There are thousands of places to fish and hunt. What more could one want?

Where would you rather be, walking in the woods or writing at your desk?

Both. I'd take a hundred walks a year and rarely see another human being but see an endless array of songbirds because of that vast arboreal thicket. This is all I want besides dinner. Of course I write, though I'm getting a little tired of it at my advanced age, so I begin the day by walking with my dog. Then I invariably write. I do a book a year because I don't know what else to do. It's my profession.

The novellas in Brown Dog span over 20 years of work. Why collect them into a single volume now?

The idea of collecting the Brown Dogs came from my Canadian publisher, Sarah MacLachlan. I said "Why would you want Brown Dogs in Canada?" and she said "We have more Brown Dogs than you do". This character is universal. I've met Brown Dogs in France, in country bars. They have no real complaints because they're free men and are living as best they can under the conditions they've set up. Brown Dog is the Chinese ideal of having a life where nothing much happens. This is a better thing than people realize.

Finally, can you describe your desk and work space? What are the "essentials" that you always have within reach while writing?

At my desk. I have to face a bare wall so I'm not diverted by my highly suggestible mind. When I need a break I look out the window or go outside, sit in a chair and stare at my wife's flower garden, with vegetables mixed in so you have both beauty and something to eat. It's kind of a simple life, but if I lived in New York I'd never get any work done because there are too many temptations.


Photo credit: Wyatt McSpadden

See all of Jim Harrison's books

Best Books of the Month: Editors' Picks for December

December is traditionally a sluggish month in publishing, a lull between the blockbuster fall season and the launch of a new year. Which makes December the perfect month to seek out gems that might otherwise get overlooked. For example, our Best of the Month list includes a bestselling Korean fable making it's English-translation debut; a collection of novellas by the brilliant Jim Harrison, featuring his long-running character, Brown Dog; an exploration of the history of New York's famous (and infamous) Chelsea Hotel; an epic biography of Ted Williams; and a collection of stories about heroines and villains, edited by George R.R. Martin.

Here's a sneak peek at a few of our editors' picks for December. (See the full list here.)

The Gods of Guilt

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

What distinguishes Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer books from the average legal thriller (in the same way his Harry Bosch series transcends "cop story") is the complicated likeability of his flawed hero, Mickey Haller, a criminal defense lawyer who works mostly from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. Connelly writes crime fiction verging subversively on literature, and Haller is becoming an increasingly complex literary figure, cruising LA's darkest corners in a style that feels like a modern twist on Chinatown. (Think Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry-San Francisco, but in LA, and without the big guns and the unresolved anger.) Incredibly, Connelly just keeps getting better. --Neal Thompson

 Learn more

Inside the Dream Palace

Inside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins

With Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, Sherill Tippins has written the definitive biography of the New York landmark. Tippins's Chelsea lives and breathes along with the mind-blowing roster of (often infamous) geniuses and eccentrics who haunt its chambers. Dylan Thomas died at the Chelsea, and Bob Dylan wrote Blonde on Blonde there. Warhol's Superstars dined in its halls, and Dee Dee Ramone detoxed in its junk-friendly confines. Artists worked and trysted in wild pairings: Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal; Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin; Dylan and Edie Sedgwick; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; and, of course, Sid and Nancy. Inside the Dream Palace stands as a fitting monument to the hotel, its misfit denizens, and the art that it nurtured and inspired. --Jon Foro

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Uncharted by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel

According to Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, the authors of Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, "If you wrote out the information contained in one megabyte by hand, the resulting line of 1s and 0s would be more than five times as tall as Mount Everest." In Uncharted, the authors explore the history and implications of Big Data--its influence on business, government, and our personal lives. But perhaps the most remarkable part of Aiden and Michel's work is how they are able to turn the abstract language of Big Data into an accessible and thoughtful book. Who knew millions of lines of data could be so much fun? --Kevin Nguyen

 Learn More

See all of December's Best Books of Month

Authors @ Amazon: Allie Brosh, "Hyperbole and a Half"

HyperboleMonths before it was even published, Allie Brosh's debut collection of comics and essays, based on and named for her wildly popular blog, became an Amazon bestseller. Since its publication earlier this month, Hyperbole and a Half has hovered among Amazon's top-selling books, was named one of our Best Books of the Month, and has attracted widespread praise. 

I asked Brosh if she had a theory--or maybe a superpower--to explain readers' devotion to her autobiographical MS Paint figures and their struggles with the game of life. "Probably how much I think about my own thinking," she said. "I spend a lot of time analyzing my own thoughts." 

In particular, her blog posts about depression have resonated with fans, as has her brutal honesty, her quirky humor, her crazy dogs, and her frequent f-bombs. Andrew Sullivan has called her blog "inspired" and Cory Doctorow calls Brosh "an Internet-era treasure, an unexpected wonder of the 21st century." As our reviewer, Mari Malcolm, put it, "Neurosis has rarely been so relatable and entertaining."

Authors @ Amazon: Allie Brosh from Amazon Books on Vimeo.

Colum McCann Interviews Authors of Richard Pryor Bio, "Furious Cool"

As kids growing up in Michigan, Joe and David Henry became obsessed with Richard Pryor's raunchy and hillarious LPs. A few years after Pryor died, in 2005, the brothers decided to collaborate on an exploration of Pryor's life and his lasting influence. The result, Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, was selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month. (Our reviewer, Jason Kirk, called it "an artistic performance of the written word that does lovely justice to a brilliant, tortured man.")Furious Cool attracted some early support from National Book Award–winner Colum McCann (TransAtlantic and Let the Great World Spin), who called it "a book worth savoring.” Here, McCann speaks with the Henrys about their fascination with Pryor.


David-joe-henryColum McCann: How did two white kids from the rust belt fall under the sway of an angry black comedian like Richard Pryor?

Joe Henry and David Henry: When we were twelve and fourteen years old, there was no one cooler, more exciting or inspiring, than Richard Pryor--he and Bob Dylan. We wouldn’t have been able to tell you why at the time, but intuitively, we sensed they were doing very similar work, bringing us news from a world that was operating and thriving somewhere down below the surface. Those were exciting times. Artists let you know you are not alone, that there are others out there who know the world is chaotic, poetic, dangerous, and heartbreaking and don’t flinch from embracing it full on. Dylan made our heads spin, Richard hit us over the head. We’d never encountered anyone like him. But we recognized him instantly as a kindred spirit. Not to say that we understood where Richard was coming from but that he, inexplicably, understood who we were.

McCann: In Furious Cool, you place Richard Pryor in the pantheon with Mark Twain, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali--a couple of times you walk right up to the edge of comparing him to Homer and Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Libraries have whole shelves devoted to those guys. Why do suppose so few books have been written about Richard Pryor? 

The Henrys: It’s too soon. The enormity of what he accomplished as an artist is still clouded over by his later celebrity and his long slog through all of those mediocre Hollywood movies. Remember, he was pushing forty when he became the box-office sensation of the eighties. It was during the previous twenty years of his career that he did his most brilliant work. Most everything he did in the seventies was monumental. And unequaled. In time the baser matter will erode revealing the block of granite underneath.

Colum-McCann-Credit-Dustin-AkslandMcCann: The book is beautifully written. There’s such a fantastic rhythm and style. Did your family’s musical background help you?

The Henrys: Our family didn’t have much of a musical background. We suspect our writing style--and Joe’s music--were greatly influenced more by the storytellers we sprang from. Our paternal grandfather, especially, would tell the same parcel of stories over and over again in a rhythmic style we took delight in imitating. He employed many of the same tricks and devices that troubadours and balladeers have used for ages--inserting decorative figures of speech or stretching out syllables on the fly in order to maintain his rhythm. Several of Richard’s standup characters do the same thing; Big Bertha and Mudbone especially. And as result, we remember them like we remember songs . . . can imitate them with the tonal and rhythmic observances that carry the narrative within them.

McCann: What was it like, working in tandem?

The Henrys: In some ways it was second nature, since for decades--most of our lives--we have shared a love for an array of writers, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians. Our sensibilities were shaped in tandem, and as such, we seldom doubted that what one of us had written would authentically resonate with the other. But in more practical terms, it was much fun and a great relief to approach our subject like tag-team wrestlers: when one got tired of hammering away at a particular chapter, he’d pass it off to the other, who, hopefully, was waiting ringside, refreshed and ready.

Continue reading "Colum McCann Interviews Authors of Richard Pryor Bio, "Furious Cool" " »

The Best of the Year in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Authors of our favorite mystery, thriller & suspense books of the year should be grateful that 2013 was a non-Gone Girl year. Last year, Gillian Flynn's surprise bestseller seemed to suck all the air out of the room. This year, though no one book rose to the all-consuming blockbuster level, crime fiction fans like myself have enjoyed a steady supply of great books, from the works of the masters (Lee Child, John Grisham, John LeCarre, and Stephen King--twice) to some surprisingly assured debuts (Elizabeth Silver, Jenni Fagan). Not to mention the alleged debut from an author named Galbraith.

Here's a look at four of the twenty books on our Best of the Year list.


Joyland by Stephen King
Remember the sweet and, if I recall correctly, nearly perfect film, Stand By Me (based on King's novella, "The Body")? That same vibe--coming-of-age tale, with hints of menace--is at work here in the story of 21-year-old Devon Jones, who spends the summer of 1973 at a North Carolina amusement park, where he befriends hard-core carny workers and falls for the beautiful mother of a dying boy (who happens to have a secret gift). At a slender 280 pages, Joyland is a single-session treat, featuring King at his narrative and nostalgic best.

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The English Girl

The English Girl by Daniel Silva
This was not only one of my favorite mystery-thrillers, but among my favorite books of all year. Silva's hero, art restorer and Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, is one of the more believable and likable spies in recent international spycraft. The plot: A beautiful woman is snatched from her Corsican vacation; a ransom note reaches 10 Downing Street; and an ambitious, unfaithful prime minister seriously needs a fixer with Allon's skill set. This is a smart, unpredictable page turner, packed with bits of history, art, heart, and imagination.

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Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Elaborately plotted and addictive, Night Film's spider-webbed storyline builds slowly but eventually swirls into a dark, propulsive, and insatiable mystery. When the daughter of a reclusive horror film director is found dead, a disgraced journalist and two sidekicks become obsessed with finding the killer--and finding the true identity of her infamous father, whose terrifying films have been banned from theaters. Complex, shadowy, and a bit sad, Pessl’s riveting tale keeps us guessing until the final pages, along the way raising questions about reality, magic, art, fear, and celebrity.

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Visitation Street

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s atmospheric novel reads as much like an ode to the ragged neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn as it does a slow-burning mystery. The story revolves around the disappearance of a teenage girl, and is filled with memorably damaged-goods characters. But the real star here is Red Hook. “A neighborhood of ghosts,” one character calls this moody, crumbling, dangerous, and seemingly forgotten place in the shadow of Manhattan.

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See all 20 books on the Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Best of the Year list

Brave Horse Sessions: Bob Shacochis, "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul"

ShacochisOver drinks at Seattle's Brave Horse Tavern, Shacochis described his encounter in Haiti years ago with the "haunting" and "unpleasant" woman who became the inspiration for the main character in his new novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick in September.

The National Book Award-winning author met the woman--"blonde, young, infuriating," as he calls her in the opening line of the book--while covering the US occupation of Haiti for Harper's Magazine. She claimed to be a photojournalist and asked Shacochis to give her a tour of a voodoo temple; during the drive there, she said she'd lost her soul. "I knew her for less than 36 hours, and I forgot her name within days," he said. "But what happened in that temple disturbed me so much it haunted me for five years.

"I just never forgot her."

It turns out that opening scene, and the character of Jackie Scott (aka Renee Gardner aka Dottie Chambers), are clues that The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is filled with autobiographical scenes. It's also a big, meaty, sweeping beast of a book--a "doorstop," as Shacochis put it.

We also discussed, over screwdrivers and beers, the "mourning period" that occurs after spending ten years writing a book.

(Our thanks to Tom Douglas and the staff at the Brave Horse.)



See all of Bob Shacochis's books; read our previous "How I Wrote It" interview with Shacochis.


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