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New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul on "By The Book"

By-the-bookSince taking over the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul has revamped the venerable weekly, and brought it some much-needed life. Among her improvements, a weekly interview with a writer (usually) about his or her reading habits and predilections. Want to know what Michael Chabon has on his newsstand? Paul’s new compilation of columns, By the Book (with an introduction by Scott Turow) will tell you. We at Omni can tell you some of the same kind of stuff, too, of course, but we work on the principle that there’s plenty of info to go around, and whatever, whoever connects readers with writers is fine with us. And so, we turned interviewer of the interviewer, just to find out how she does it.

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Is By the Book “edited”--i.e. do you cut answers, or rewrite questions or run answers together when appropriate?   

By the Book is edited in the sense that the editor (me) chooses who to include in the column each week, which questions to ask each person (the questions vary and rotate), and which answers will appear in print, where space is more limited. That said, we never edit within a given an answer--if we're going to include a question and answer, we run it in its entirety. We also edit for Times style, which has its own idiosyncrasies, and for accuracy. This is not a gotcha column in which we want to highlight someone accidentally referring to Isabella Archer. [p.s. - We didn’t edit Paul’s answers here either.]

Do you print every answer to every question, or do you pick and choose? What’s the difference between the By the Book that’s in the print paper and the one on the Web?

Pamela-paulWe do not have the space to include every question in the print edition, but we do run it in its entirety online--and in this book, which reprints the full Q and A. These are really portraits of a person through their life with books, and rather than abbreviate a long answer about someone's favorite novelist, that we should run it in full.

Why do you think the feature is so popular?  

As the editor of The New York Times Book Review, I like to think that book reviews are of paramount importance, but it would be foolish not to recognize the persuasive power of word-of-mouth. We all like to hear book recommendations from our smartest colleagues, best-read friends, spouses or just people we think are culturally tuned in or expert on a given subject. The idea of By the Book is to provide that word of mouth from the writers we most admire or whose work we most enjoy. Or whose opinion, on say, history books or music biographies we'd be especially keen on knowing. What By the Book does is marry word-of-mouth with informed opinion from our most popular and/or (not always the same) critically acclaimed writers. 

Do you do the interviews by phone, by email or in person?

As a reporter, I only conduct interviews by phone or in person--no exceptions. I'm actually vehemently opposed to email interviews, which I think have become too prevalent in journalism. A written answer is necessarily premeditated, edited, packaged. And it doesn't allow for probing, questioning, follow-up. So it feels odd to insist that this particular feature be done only by email (even when the rare person asks to do it by phone or in person, which has happened). But I think that this is an instance in which you want to get a deeply thought out answer, not an off-the-cuff response to a question like, "What book made you the person you are today?" It doesn't make for a better column if the person gives an answer and later realizes, "How could I have possibly said "Narnia" and forgotten about "Madame Bovary?" or whatever the specifics might be. Readers want to genuinely know what an astrophysicist thinks is THE best book about cosmology, not the first book that comes to mind.

Who has been your favorite By the Book respondent?

Very hard to say, I have many favorites. I think the journalist in me most appreciates the big "gets"--Malala Yousafsai, Hillary Clinton, Donna Tartt, Edward St. Aubyn. I was also incredibly pleased that the first two people I asked when I had nothing on paper to show and had just started the column--David Sedaris and Lena Dunham--both said yes right away.

Who would you most like to get but haven’t yet gotten for By the Book?

Happily, not a lot of people have said no. But I would love to get people who are not necessarily authors but are writers in other formats, or great readers. I'd love to have Mick Jagger or Paul Simon. Or both.

Are BtB respondents always authors?

No. The actor and comedian Bill Hader did one this past summer that I thought was brilliant and unexpected. He's an autodidact, a voracious reader, and he's got excellent taste.

Must you have read the work of the author(s) you choose for BtB?

No, but it helps. At the very least it helps to have a sense of their work, their lives, their experiences. Because the interviews are tailored to each person and you want a mix of both expected an unexpected answers. I really like the question "What's your favorite love story?" which I don't ask all the time, but I do like to ask both of the expected (a romance writer) and the unexpected (a military historian). Same thing goes with asking about self-help. Who knew Hilary Mantel would be such a fan of the genre?

Who chooses the authors and who does the interviews?

I do.

What happens if a BtB respondent has a new book that’s not positively reviewed in your pages?

In a way, By the Book is a nice way to balance our review coverage, and to offer readers another perspective on the author or her work. A reader may find herself disagreeing with the reviewer who pans a book, and very much liking what the author has to say for himself, or find they have literary tastes in common. 

What’s the best answer you ever got from a BtB respondent?

I think the best answers, honestly, are the ones that connect different authors. I realize its sappy, but what I love most is when writers find out they admire each other's work from afar. It was a delight when Donna Tartt said, for example, that she was eagerly awaiting the next Stephen King novel--before she saw Stephen King's rave of The Goldfinch on our cover.

What are you reading right now--and why?

I am reading all (or nearly all) of Dave Eggers's books in anticipation of an event I'm doing with him in San Francisco on October 29th. I had only read What is the What, so I'm going back and reading through his earlier books. I started with The Circle, then went to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and now I'm reading Hologram for a King, which I plan to follow with Zeitoun. He's been incredibly prolific in a relatively short period of time so I have my work cut out for me.

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A Unique Look at the ABCs: "Alphabetabum"

Award-winning author/illustrators Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky recently teamed up to create an unusual pairing of rare vintage photos and verse in the highly original alphabet book. Alphabetabum

The antique photos of children accompanying each letter are a mirror into history and just examining the dress and expressions is fascinating.  Add to that Raschka's quirky verse, and you have a picture book that looks like an object from another time and is appealing to all ages.   See below for a look inside:

Cover

 

Images from Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses

 
 
 
 
 
 

How I Wrote It: An Interview with Cary Elwes, on His Memoir, "As You Wish"

ElwesCary Elwes discusses his new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, a behind the scenes look at the filming of the cult 1987 classic.

In this exclusive interview, filmed this summer in New York, Elwes says he was inspired to write the book after meeting with the cast and crew at a twenty-fifth anniversary reunion in 2012. "I felt that the time was right to tell my story," he said.

"The making of the film was really a collaborative effort. We're like one big family ...It's not just my book it's theirs as well, it's all of ours."

The book contains never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, including backstage stories and secrets.

"How to Get A Major Book Deal" by Nir Eyal

HabitsAuthor Nir Eyal is all about making things that people want and getting it to them. His brand new book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products is the fruit of many years of research and study. Now he tells us how he applied his hard-won principles to getting a book published.

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“Hi Nir,” the email began. “I have been reading your work and find it incredibly interesting.” Naturally, this is the kind of message a blogger loves to receive. However, this email was special for another reason. It was from a prominent New York publishing agent who represents several authors I read and admire. “I don’t know if you've already started down this road or whether writing a book interests you, but I’d be delighted to have a conversation with you if you are interested.”

Was she kidding? Heck yeah I was interested!

We scheduled a time to talk. She told me she is fond of my work and thought it could reach a larger audience if it was promoted by a major publisher. That email and the subsequent call would lead to the forthcoming release of my book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

I should mention that the focus of my research for the past several years — and the topic of my book — is mind hacking. I study the psychology of how products change human behavior. Given my knowledge of the subject, I’d be foolish not to use what I teach others. Here are three surprising techniques I utilized to write my book and a few tips from some very successful friends.

Write What You Want to Know

When Daniel Pink began working on his mega-hit book, Drive, he knew relatively little about the subject he was going to write about. What he did know for certain was that his curiosity was not yet satisfied. Pink told me he knew “enough to realize that the science of motivation was utterly interesting but woefully under-covered.” Interestingly, the more Pink learned, the more things fit into place. Today, Pink is an expert in his own right.

Curiosity is author rocket fuel. In my own book, I describe the psychological power of variable rewards. Receiving positive reinforcement at variable intervals — that is, not knowing when the good stuff is coming — has been shown to spike dopamine levels in the reward centers of the brain. It is a major reason why all sorts of experiences like video games, slot machines, action movies, and even our cell phones, keep us so engaged. For authors, searching for the answers we seek can be just as engrossing. The unpredictable nature of the hunt for knowledge can provide endless motivation for those able to harness it.

As Pink told me, “The big motivator for good books is the author’s own curiosity. If I’m not curious about a topic, why should I expect any reader to be?” Leveraging the variable reward of pursuing answers to one’s own burning questions is one of the best mind hacks I know.

Get Frequent Feedback

Many would-be authors believe they have to know all the answers before they start writing. Whether it’s a full volume book or a 500 word blog post, people tend to not start until they have all the pieces of the puzzle figured out. Generally, this leads no where. Far too many people who have important things to share never publish because they fail to take the first step.

When New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin began working on her forthcoming book, Better Than Before, she admits that like Pink, she didn’t have all the answers. “If I have what I think is a good idea, I want to get it out into the world,” Rubin told me. “I don’t hold ideas back.” Despite knowing her ideas were only half-baked, Rubin began putting her thoughts and theories out into the world via her blog because, she says, “I learn more about them as I write about them and also because my creativity is more stimulated by throwing ideas out there … Often I will write a post about a new idea to see what responses it evokes.”

In my own book,I detail the psychology behind taking action. Psychologists have known for years that when a behavior is difficult to do, we need more motivation and willpower to do it. For many people, the burden of needing to have all the answers before writing, make the book writing journey too difficult to start. Instead, breaking down the process into small iterative steps can reshape and improve the work. Publishing small posts frequently with the intention of testing new ideas with readers not only provides a constant stream of critical feedback but also supplies a kind of intoxicating encouragement that can push an author forward.

Help Your Readers Invest in Your Work

Like Gretchen, the content of my book started as blog posts. After I had published my thoughts for several years, I began to see common themes emerge. I turned my posts into a series of lectures I later taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. As my blog readership grew, I received a few emails asking when I’d write a book. One of those messages came from Ryan Hoover who offered to help arrange my essays into a book format. Ryan’s work also helped identify holes in the text where I needed to do more research and writing.

When I had completed a rough draft, I decided to ask my blog followers for help and did something most authors would think is nuts — I placed the full text of the book online. Certainly, some people may think giving the entire world access to an unpublished book is crazy. However, the response was tremendous and the experience taught me something profound. By letting people make suggestions and improvements, readers were also investing in the book with their time and effort.

Psychologists have studied the powerful influence small investments can have on the way we think and act. Several studies have demonstrated that putting effort into an activity makes us more committed to it. A happy by-product of asking my readers for help editing my book is that I now have a team of advocates ready to tell others about the book.

When I received my literary agent’s email asking if I was interested in publishing a book, I was ready. I had put the psychological principles featured in my book to good use. By following my own curiosity, getting frequent feedback and asking my readers to invest in my work, I was in a great position to take my book to stores and eventually readers’ hands.

Editor’s Note: Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products and blogs about the psychology of products at NirAndFar.com. For more insights into how products change user behavior, join his free newsletter and receive the first chapter of his book.

 

Lunch With: Mark Bittman, on Cooking with Speed and Confidence

20141014_133913_resizedI've been cooking since I was a teenager, starting as a short order cook at the Gibson Girl diner in Sparta, New Jersey. (Still the best job I ever had). I found myself thinking about that long-ago job as I leafed through Mark Bittman's new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, which encourages improvisation and experimentation. I remember the day at Gibson Girl when I ran out of bacon for our famous Butch Burgers--bacon, cole slaw, special sauce. I ran to tell my boss, Vinny Scapicchio, who slapped a couple pieces of ham on the grill. "They'll love it," he said.

In How to Cook Everything Fast, Bittman offers strategies and shortcuts designed to help people cook with the same level of confidence as my man Vinny. During a recent visit to Seattle, Bittman spoke with us over lunch (at Shanik Indian restaurant, followed by a shot at Uptown Espresso) about his attempt to create a book full of recipes (2,000 of them) that can each be completed in 45 minutes or less.

By combining cook steps with prep steps, the book is designed to streamline recipes and take away the excuses many people use for not cooking their own meals--not enough time, don’t know what I’m doing, don't have the right ingredients… The book encourages compromise, such as replacing ingredients with something that's close enough. “And I think that is what cooking is all about. It’s about compromise. We all feel sort of hurried,” Bittman said. “You never have the perfect ingredients.” 

To Bittman, perfect is less important than fresh and handmade. “I think the from-scratch thing is really important, because it’s the only way you know what you’re eating,” he said. “We don’t know what’s in the food we eat unless we cook it ourselves, and to me that’s the primary reason to cook. I want to know what I’m eating.”

These days, Bittman has become an evangelist (in his New York Times opinion columns and elsewhere) for encouraging people to eat better by folllowing a simple rule: “eat real food."

No need to follow recipes slavishly, he insists. If you have the basics in your pantry, you can make just about anything. With practice, you can even develop the instincts and trust in your own judgement to, say, swap in grilled ham atop a burger when you don't have bacon.

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> See all of Mark Bittman's books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Russell talks with Bradford Morrow about his new novel "The Forgers"

TheforgersBradford Morrow's The Forgers is a dark literary thriller set inside the world of rare books. The incomparable Karen Russell is a big fan of The Forgers and caught up with Morrow to talk to him about his new novel. 

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KAREN RUSSELL: The Forgers is a totally sui generis existential thriller that introduced me to the world of rare book collecting, a world where I know you have serious street cred. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how the idea to write The Forgers came to you?

BRADFORD MORROW: The Forgers opens with a simple, disturbing, and to me compelling sentence, “They never found his hands.” My editor, Otto Penzler, had asked if I would write a story for a series of bibliomysteries he publishes, and once I’d settled on exploring the rarefied, high-stakes world of literary forgeries, I thought to myself, What would a ruthless forger most want to deprive a rival of having? Pens, nibs, inks, antique papers, subterranean connections in the rare book world?  No, his hands, of course. So I began with that single image and all the narrative possibilities and challenges it offered. The rare book community, a collective of brilliant eccentrics among whom murderers don’t generally mingle, is one I have been a part of for my whole adult life—first as a dealer, later as a collector—so most of my research was already done by the time I wrote that sentence and those that came after.   

My experience of writing The Forgers was one of extraordinary, unstoppable momentum—the story very quickly matured into a novella and the novella soon burst into a novel. And while, yes, it is a literary thriller, it is also a heartrending (at least to me) love story—love between two people, as well as a love of antiquarian books that, for some, crosses ethical borders into a place of bibliomania, of psychopathy.

KAREN RUSSELL:  This novel is Morrow magic at its best—I’m thinking of the awake-with-a-flashlight feeling I had reading The Diviner’s Tale, a novel that explores the quest for truth through the character of a female dowser, and the gothic spawn you’ve gathered in your story collection, The Uninnocent, which, like The Forgers, is always honest about the best and worst parts of our natures. But The Forgers also feels like new ground to me. The lyricism of your prose, its humor and its unbelievably beautiful insights into human relationships and human nature, seem to challenge narrow definitions of what a “thriller” can do. I confess that I’m never sure how genre lines get drawn, and your book seems to me like a glorious hybrid creature, a genre pegosaurus, your own Morrow-mutation. Were you consciously setting out to rattle the cage bars of genre?

BRADFORD MORROW:  I love great genre writing, but talking genre can sometimes be a tricky business, in part because certain tropes over literary generations have become codified, and wherever there’s a code, there are some out there who would enforce the code, others who are strict practitioners of the code, and so on. That said, many writers I admire have embraced the worlds of genre, imagining and inventing wonderful books that often push beyond traditional dictates. And readers are a far more resilient, edgy, engaged group of literary explorers than some give them credit for being. I love working with genre, playing with expectations, so long as I can write the narratives I’m driven to write. If anything I do challenges narrow definitions, why then, that must be a good thing, I have to believe.

KAREN RUSSELL:  As far as love stories go, this is a terrifically original one. I was riveted by the tension between the narrator’s private life as a forger and his public one with Meghan, the way his desires seem absolutely incompatible. “Do what you love,” as you tell us, is an adage that can underwrite all kinds of unspeakable activities; and loving someone might require forfeiting a beloved activity that structures one’s identity. How does this narrator’s secret life as a forger impinge on his aboveground relationship?

BRADFORD MORROW:  While our narrator operates in a world deeply cast in shadows and secrets—he only mentions his own name once, and grudgingly in passing at that—his love for Meghan is unquestionable. To my mind, his private identities as a man who loves creating literary forgeries and a man who loves Meghan Diehl, incompatible as they may be, are equally powerful. Though his technique and literary historical knowledge as a forger are so exceptional that on occasion he feels he’s created work that is, to borrow a line from U2, “even better than the real thing,” it is very telling that he never gives Meghan, who runs an East Village used bookshop and loves books too, any forgeries.

KAREN RUSSELL:  As the editor of the in-every-sense-fabulous journal Conjunctions, you’ve helped me and countless authors to firm up the “reality” of their imaginary worlds. From your books, I know you to be an expert deceiver, and one proof of this is that I feel as if your books are a stranger’s memories that I am importing into my own body. When you are working on your own forgeries (stories and novels), how do you vet for yourself when something feels emotionally true, even in a superficially outlandish or wild tale?  And how can it be that we can all sense truth in art, even as it everywhere announces itself as imaginary, false?

BRADFORD MORROW: Truth is a pretty holy tabernacle of a concept, but all art, no matter how original and even unprecedented it is, constitutes a kind of forgery in that “forgery” is tantamount to “making.” One forges ahead. One can just as easily form, shape, produce, forge something that’s a true contribution not just to the arts but the world of wrought iron, for instance. Literary practitioners of the imaginary must create language that provides a gateway to a kind of separate reality, one that is both fictional and authentic at the same time, contradictory as that might seem. I used to worry about writing something emotionally true, but now I focus on language, trusting that the language I craft will articulate an experience of truth that my readers will share. 

KAREN RUSSELL:  How pervasive is forgery in the rare book world, do you think? Do you have a favorite anecdote from your time as a dealer or a collector?

BRADFORD MORROW:  Every reputable rare book dealer who has been in business for any amount of time has encountered forgeries. Because reputation is paramount—these are smart, often scholarly people, some of them living encyclopedias, and proud of their legacies—most booksellers are intensely scrupulous about the manuscript materials and inscribed books they handle. This doesn’t mean that fakes don’t get into commerce. I can’t say I have a favorite anecdote, but earlier this year at a rare book fair in New York, I saw an autographed copy of the first American edition of a Virginia Woolf book in which the signature was wrong, embarrassingly wrong. From an oversized “V” on, the letters were inaccurately formed and far too large, the baseline was weirdly stepped up from her first name to the surname, the ink color was atypical, and so forth. This didn’t stop the seller, who I assume didn’t know better, from asking a very pretty penny for the piece. When I mentioned it to a dealer friend, an expert I trust who was also showing at the fair, he confirmed without having to look at it a second time that it was a forgery, and not a very sophisticated one at that. “Too bad,” we agreed. “It would have been a pretty nice book.” As for my own experiences, back when I was a rare book dealer in my twenties, I went out of my way to stay clear of any autograph material that seemed even slightly off, and as a collector I still do. Did any forgeries slip past me? Impossible to say impossible.

You know, there are forgers from earlier centuries who are actually collected, because they were so sophisticated or brazen or both. Thomas Chatterton and William Ireland come to mind, as does Thomas Wise. Even the infamous in the arcane world of literary forgers have their fanciers, their biographers, their colorful histories. 

KAREN RUSSELL:  The Forgers has epigraphs from Jorge Luis Borges and Arthur Conan Doyle—in terms of assembling a family tree for The Forgers, that sounds spot-on to me. What other influencers might you include, literary or otherwise, if you were tracing this novel’s lineage? Who are some of your favorite liars, er, authors?

BRADFORD MORROW:  Friends who know my great admiration for William Gaddis may see hints of The Recognitions in The Forgers, since the former engages art forgery and the latter literary forgery, but if there was any influence of the one book on the other, it is lost on me, as I never consciously looked to Gaddis for any inspiration for this novel. When traveling in Ireland while writing the book—it was written quickly, by the way, in a matter of months, after some serious time stewing over it—I had a drink with John Banville, and had long been a fan of The Book of Evidence, which I see as a distant cousin to this novel, not plot-wise but tonally somehow. I did go back and reread most all of the Sherlock Holmes adventures as research for some of my forger’s more inventive counterfeits, and have to feel that Doyle’s pacing infected me, quick movements whereas I often love to linger. Nabokov’s short novels I can cite as a direct influence. Orson Welles’ last major film, F for Fake, about the superlative art forger Elmyr de Hory, I watched at least three times. De Hory was in a league of his own—the shamelessness, the sheer genius, the scope of his ambition were altogether galvanizing to me as I plumbed this netherworld. Welles admired him too as a fellow “liar,” a fellow bodhisattva in search of the believable sham. 

As for my favorite writers, they are many and various, and only some of them would cotton to the idea of being called liars or forgers. I’ll let you guess who would and wouldn’t.In no order other than their names come first to mind, I think of Beckett, Cather, Woolf, Angela Carter, Hardy, Nabokov, Gass, Thomas Bernhard. I’m purposely leaving out the living and the Homers, Shakespeares, Donnes, and Swifts. But these are some whose work I go to for solace the same way others go to their Bible or whatever holy book they hold in high esteem.

KAREN RUSSELL:  I love the book, and was struck by your ability to channel some of the deep metaphysical preoccupations from your earlier books into a heart-in-your-throat page turner. How do you see The Forgers as connected to your other work?

BRADFORD MORROW:  That’s an interesting question, a tougher one than it might seem. I can’t truthfully say that I have some overarching philosophical system that informs my novels and stories. That said, certain themes have seemed to crop up in all eight of my books, including The Forgers, and they’re also there in the novel I’m finishing now, The Prague Sonata. Searching for an impossible place to call home in this world is one. The subjective nature of history and malleability of what’s “real” is another. I am fascinated by treacherous people who see themselves as spotless innocents—in other words, the kaleidoscopic range of self-deception available privately to all of us who ever breathed. Those are a few, anyway. I’m sure there are many more abiding preoccupations that thread through my work, but Steven Millhauser recently wrote me that he’s not much of a Steven Millhauser scholar, and I feel much the same way. Others will be able, if they’re of a mind, to identify recurrent themes and ideas. My job is just to make each book as good as I can and hope it connects with sympathetic readers such as yourself.

KAREN RUSSELL:  How does the “act of faith” of book-collecting relates to love, for this narrator?   

BRADFORD MORROW:  That’s easier to unravel over the course of a novel than in a few sentences. Suffice it to say that the greatest book collectors I have known are less interested in rare books as investments, say, than in the preservation of culture. There’s a devotional element and historical imperative behind the impulse to gather, in obsessive depth and with bibliographic erudition, a collection of early arctic exploration, of Vladimir Nabokov, of Italian incunabula, of early comics, of antique cookbooks, you name it. As our narrator’s father, a great and scrupulous book collector himself, tells his young son about the passions behind collecting, “Books make us feel alive, and though we obviously won’t live forever, they make us feel as if we might. These walls of books in this room? They stand between us and the unknown....  We shore them against our ruins and they give us poor mortals comfort and joy like religion does.” Not dissimilarly, love makes us feel alive and, despite our mortality, prompts us tell the people we love, “I will love you forever.” Love is devotional, obsessive, protects us from the harshnesses of the world, affords us comfort and joy, and promises to shore us against our ruins, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. So definitely, in the context of this novel, human love and the totality of passion that informs the collector, not to mention the world-class forger, conflict with and yet weave in, around, and through each other.

 

Inspiration for Fall Decorating and Entertaining

Camille Styles- book image

Most people talk about “spring cleaning” but in my house, fall is when I get the urge to tackle a deep clean and move everything. I swap out the light and bright colors of summer for heavier blankets and darker colors for accessorizing. I’ve also started adding to my collection of decorating and lifestyle books and bookmarking my favorite images and tips for future contemplation. While looking at my growing list of must reads, I’m excited to see an increasing mix of titles from design bloggers alongside the traditional interior designers. Some of the traditional and popular interior designers can feel a little intimidating, but still provide beautiful aspirational ideas. The new design bloggers incorporate a little more “how” into their approach creating a terrific balance of high – low when tackling a redecorating project. I'm also loving the "lifestyle" book that mixes a few categories: cooking, decorating, fashion, and entertaining. A few I’m collecting now are:

1. Sarah Style by Sarah Richardson
Sarah style

2. Flea Market Fabulous: Designing Gorgeous Rooms with Vintage Treasures by Lara Spencer
Fea market fabulous


3. The Handbuilt Home: 34 Simple Stylish and Budget Friendly Woodworking Projects for Every Room by Ana White
Handbuilt home

4. Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style by Camille Styles
Camille Styles

5. The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquilyn Smith
Nesting Place

6. Markham Roberts: Decorating the Way I See It by Markham Roberts
Markham Roberts

7. Mary McDonald: Interiors: The Allure of Style by Mary McDonald
Mary McDonald

8. Relish: An Adventure in Food, Style, and Everyday Fun by Daphne Oz
Relish

9.Vintage Industrial: Licing with Machine Age Design by Misha de Potestad
Vintage industrial

10. Novel Living: Collecting, Decorating, and Crafting with Books by Lisa Occhipinti
Novel Living

 

A Dark and Stormy Night: A Roundup of Halloween Lit

As you put the finishing touches on your costumes and keep dipping your hands into the bowl of trick-or-treater candy, enjoy these literary themed jack-o-lanterns--Jack, Poe, Max, Katniss, Harry and Sherlock. If these aren't spooky enough for you, check out these Halloween-themed book lists:

The-shining-pumpkin

Enhanced-buzz-28924-1382082488-4

Enhanced-buzz-28031-1382334452-4

Enhanced-buzz-25798-1382332373-9

Enhanced-buzz-24749-1382332148-4

Enhanced-buzz-3045-1382329188-20

Spooktacular Spooktacular! 13 Picks from the Master of Cult Cinema

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

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

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

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

 


My Lucky Thirteen for Halloween, by Danny Peary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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